Shifting Landscapes

My first morning home, the fields surrounding our acreage were purest white, wheat stalks like upturned icicles. Fog on the horizon blended the cloud-smudged sky into the land, not unlike the Atlantic’s horizon. Burdened by the thickest frost I’ve ever seen, the trees bordering the road were bowed low and would have groaned had they lungs. Saskatchewan may not be Nahant, but it can be a little like Narnia.

Christmas Eve has always been magical to me, but in a deeper way this year. While away from my family, I had dreamt about being together again, drinking tea by the twinkling tree. Thus it was a strange but beautiful thing to find myself living that dream after Midnight Mass. Our only light was provided by strung lights entwined in the tree’s branches and candles arranged on the coffee table. The smells of baked ham and yam from supper lingered still. We prayed together, gazing upon the creche, and then Father picked the chords to O Come Let Us Adore Him on his guitar, and we sang. After night-before-Christmas presents were opened, each child owned a faux fur blanket. Wrapped in these, we shared stories late into the night.

A few days later, there we were again, gathered around the tree, sipping apricot brandy in celebration, because we ten will soon be we eleven: my older sister, the oldest Mallett child, now wears a blue topaz ring on her left hand. How surreal it is to me, even as it is the most precious gift this year—a new son for my parents, a new brother for my siblings and me, and a remarkable husband for Tianna. As young girls, my sisters and I often play-acted a chaste re-telling of Titanic, each with our own Jack. I think it speaks profoundly about the desires burning within a girl’s heart—and how God fulfills them—by the fact that Tianna’s fiancé very much embodies her childhood Jack.

The landscape has shifted and will continue shifting—physically and metaphorically. My sisters and I—we are women now, no longer children in dress-up clothes. We are free to fly where the Lord wills. Where once the possibilities would have overwhelmed me, now I am exhilarated by what may be. And so, as I await my next adventure, I’ve acquired a horse.

A young buckskin, barely handled by humans. I’ve named him Islander. I may sell him in the spring to pay for a flight to some distant land where the hills are green, or I may keep him. Who knows what lies ahead—except a wedding, when the snow has melted.

In some ways, it feels like I never left this place, like those three months in Massachusetts never happened. I often find myself fingering the sea-glass necklace given me by my host family—proof that I really was there. But even greater proof is that, even in the stillness found on the prairies, an ocean is falling in waves upon my soul.

Sea Glass in My Heart

Don’t tell anyone, but in the pouring rain and darkness before dawn, we drove to the wharf, and there, protected by berthed vessels, I dumped a shattered plate into the sea. Now every time my four beloved Italians find a fragment of royal-blue sea glass, washed up on the shore, they will think of me.

My shoulders heaved in sobs as the light of the wharf lamps flashed off the tinkling glass, waves swallowing my offering in rushy gulps. I lingered a moment to gaze far across the water to Boston, its towers glittering like Christmas ornaments. I remembered the time I asked my hostess why cities glitter by night, but neither she nor I knew the answer. Clutching the empty bag that had held the plate, I returned to the van, not to smell the sea again for a long time. We were gone from the island (my island) before the sun had risen to shed its light and let me see Nahant one last time. But I will not forget its beauty. Yes, that is what I discovered there—beauty. Beauty in the world and in people . . . and in myself.

As I lifted into the sky, bound for Canada, I said goodbye to soil that nourished me, allowing me to blossom. My prayer is that I left a few petals in my wake. By the tears of my beloveds, I believe I did.

I Let Go

Little scarlet cardinals

pecking in the green

Hide away in the wet thicket— 

race the sparrows! dodge the squirrels!—

when the wind rushes cool and salty

And the mighty tree sways and sprays

sways and sprays

 

Summer has slipped

from this island

Let go, murmurs the fog . . .

Family dearest, I am coming home

to be warmed

by the hearth of your hearts

Yes, I let go 

But I let go to embrace

 

My last week on the island. Red leaves lie thick beneath the trees; branches are dark and sleek and utterly beautiful. My ocean—yes, it is mine as much as it is the islanders, because God has given every human the whole great world to explore—is very angry. Pale beneath unbroken clouds, it heaves as if a massive serpent slithers beneath the surface. Waves are attempting to climb the cliffs, failing with every crash—but not failing miserably. Rather, I am in awe at their ferocity—I am frightened. The ocean doesn’t want you to leave, said my hostess.

But I have to leave. Whatever I was called here to give has been given; what I was called here to receive has been received. How do I know this? Because peace abounds, even in the sadness that accompanies goodbye. Ah, even so, I know I will ache to remember what it felt like to live on serene Nahant, to be loved by and to love these people. I cherish every moment, even those moments when I was tried, because in being tried, I believe I have been become a little more like that gold, placed in the purifying fire. O Abba above—may I never again be that child who so often ran from the fire. Only let me still be that child with a map in her hands, craving the wild adventure You’ve plotted out before me. In truth, it is the treasure I crave, marked by a red X—a blood-stained cross—buried in the meadow of sanctity.

 

Yes, I let go

But I let go to embrace

the crown that lies ahead

What on Earth Happened to Christmas?

When someone mentions Christmas, what is the first image that pops into your head? Personally, I see a jolly, blue-eyed man garbed in red. I see multicolored lights and velvet stockings. I smell pine and cinnamon, and I hear Nat King Cole’s toasty-warm voice. I taste eggnog, shortbread, fruitcake. The whole world has suspended the rat race to curl up on couches with family, to share a laugh and trade mountains of beribboned presents.

Despite the pretty picture I have painted, I can’t help but think: what on earth happened to Christmas?

With a few clicks of the mouse, I’ve discovered that the image of Santa Claus was not fully developed until the 20th century. Not long ago at all, and yet the white-bearded man with an appetite for cookies and milk has strode in and effectively booted the crèche from our homes. Much the way Apple has convinced us life without an iPhone is impossible. What happened to the days before?

Somehow the tradition of honoring Christ on his birthday has been shuffled to the farthest corner of the attic, like last year’s present. In fact, Christmas is the one birthday celebrated incorrectly. It isn’t about lavishing our love on Christ as we would on dear Bobby, but about gorging ourselves on new possessions and sweets. Our closets are stuffed tighter, the weight scale groans, and the rat race resumes. Even we as Christians are slowly slipping as we harp at our kids to be good because Santa Claus is coming to town—but what about Christ? How many of us truly understand that it is Christ who approaches, wanting not simply to enter our homes, but our hearts?

Just as it would be radical to return to the pre-iPhone days, so would it be radical to again set Christ at the heart of the Christmas season. Does this mean we must chuck Santa Claus out the door? Not necessarily. Giving gifts in memory of Saint Nicholas will remind us that the saints became saints because they gave. But we must remember that, in giving, the saints were pointing to Christ, He who gave us His life. Perhaps Santa Claus need not be eradicated; rather, become the pedestal on which the crèche be placed.

Indeed, string your tree with tinsel and bake those goodies, but let it be in celebration of Christ’s birth. Let the lights on your house reflect the light in your heart. And may the children whisper: “When is Jesus coming, Mum?”