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?”

Like the Formidable Ocean

When I looked out the window this morning, I gasped. I have watched Nahant transition from green to red to bare and now to purest white. And I am no less entranced by this place than when it was bursting with color. Yes, the hydrangeas are withered on their stems and the boats have been pulled from the water, but light is still spilling from the sky, the gulls have not ceased to cry, and the ocean—the ocean is as formidable as it ever was.

I walked down to the beach (scarf around my neck, mittens on my hands) and stood still between the frozen land and that great moving of water. It is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Familiar words, yes? I love God like I love the ocean—because He too never changes. Even when our hearts are frozen, He is still moving, and moving powerfully.

Every now and then, I pause, and I think, “I did it. I actually came back.” Nahant has blessed me deeply by its unwavering beauty; my hostess and her three daughters by their fierce joy and hands-on love. In leaving, I know I will grieve a little, as if I am leaving home a second time. Something in me is tempted to fear that once this beautiful chapter in my life is over, I will find myself floating aimlessly, disoriented, abandoned to find my own way. But then I stand still, and I remember that my God never changes, that I can trust Him, He who will continue to be like the formidable ocean until the end of time—through every chapter in my life.

Wild at Heart

I am reading Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. It may be directed toward men, but it is feeding my soul as well. I too crave wilderness and risk, as men do, but for a completely different reason, a reason I did not recognize right away. My question was: Why do I have a wild heart? And the answer came as I was walking home yesterday evening from the rugged headland on Nahant called East Point. Bathed in a sunset-pink that would be obnoxious anywhere but in God’s sky, listening to a loon calling in the harbour, I smiled at these words that blinked into my head: to be found.

Aha. It is feminine indeed, that desire to find myself lost in foggy hill country where the trees grow thick and the river is quiet but deadly in its swiftness. Here is woman’s heart in three words: to be found. We too desire adventure, want to take daring leaps . . . because we want to be rescued from danger.

A man, however, leaves behind the known and ventures into the wild to find. Find himself, discover what he is made of. And find that damsel in distress and rescue her.

Life is a love story. Yes, our very existence is founded on romance—not only between men and women, but first and foremost between the King and us. Human romance must flow from divine romance, if it is to be as passionate as it can be. It was He, after all, who created the wild and that craving within us to experience the wild. Why? Because He wishes to be found by and to find us.

So I will allure her;

I will lead her into the desert

and speak to her heart.

—Hosea 2:16

A Pumpkin and an Ancient Gift

Yesterday I attacked the pumpkin on the front step. It is now appreciated anew in cookie and muffin form. Next week, pie form, when the American Thanksgiving rolls around. Felt good to hack that thing into pieces, boil it, blend it, bake it.

A few days ago, I was raking leaves—a gazillion leaves. My arms didn’t like me come day’s end, but it was a good feeling, to toil in the crisp air and later truly understand what rest means. I recognize that not everyone is called or able to toil like that—strain their muscles, or push their hands into soil, split a log, prune a tree—but I think something in every person comes alive when mastering creation.

Back in Eden, the greenery and beasts within were given to Adam, first man, and I believe that ancient gift is still waiting to be opened by any who desire it. In days past, those men who spent their days tilling the fields, harvesting the crops, training their horses; and those women who drew carrots from the earth and milk from the cows—they sweat, bled, wept, and rejoiced with creation. And in doing so, I think they must have tasted Eden. I think this because I myself have tasted it, when I am weeding in the garden, when my horse yields to the touch of my leg, when I reach beneath a chicken and remove the warm, brown oval that is a fresh egg—or when I am transforming a pumpkin into goodies. And my soul says Yes when I see a boat coasting on the waves that press upon Nahant, sails swollen with wind, or when I see a child swinging from a branch. Dancing with the ocean, dancing with the tree. In those moments, we are transported back to the Beginning, when life was simple—when man was living and breathing God’s goodness through the tangible world.

Ha, I guess those pumpkin goodies feed more than the body; they also feed the soul.

Chasms of Mystery

As I sat on the ragged purple rocks, watching black waterbirds spread their wings and a seal peek above the waves, I realized that if the ocean were drained away, the placid blue landscape would give way to a network of chasms into which one could fall and never be found. Is not the mystery of God the same? If we were given liberty to step into His divine mind, we would find ourselves overwhelmed, terrified, struck with a wonder too great to bear within our weak human flesh. And so those chasms remain hidden. Just as the tide recedes, revealing only a fragment of what lies beneath the surface, so too does God reveal only fragments of His mystery to us, one gift at a time.

Here in this place so far from home, God has allowed the tide to recede until I am, at times, almost overwhelmed, terrified, struck with uncontainable wonder. His ways are indeed mysterious; I never could have guessed that my life would unfold as it has. With every beautiful relationship I have formed, every light-soaked day by the ocean, He has proven to me that an oasis in the desert does exist. I know the desert will come again, as it must if my roots are to continue pushing down in faith, but growth happens here too, in the oasis. My leaves have unfurled, my flowers blossomed, as they never have before. And when the tide encroaches again, my roots will drink deep from that lush crown given me by God.

Collision

You may never see that soul again, but it doesn’t matter. Two souls colliding in the dark cosmos, a brief but brilliant spark, speak a word: love is light. Existence, the cold void, is relieved by the light. Yes, the light must be, or we cannot survive. Burn, then, in the moment, because that spark will speak, to you, to him, to her: You are loved.

Life Abundant

From afar, the rock formation rising from the ocean was indeed a rugged, beautiful thing, enough to draw me across the beach and climb up its back, but not until I reached the top did I realize just how beautiful. Settling onto a little elbow jutting out over the water, I looked down and saw beneath my perch a sight that could have been tropical: gray-amber kelp blooming from the submerged rocks, swishing languidly back and forth in the translucent turquoise tide. I could see the seabed below, perhaps ten feet down.

As I began thumbing my red crystal beads, I wondered how to enter into the Sorrowful Mysteries whilst immersed in such dazzling creation.

Jesus’s words came to mind: I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

And I suddenly understood. He had suffered the lash, the thorns, the cross, the desolation, to give me this spectacular day. I don’t mean the transitory beauty, because even an atheist could appreciate this view. No, beauty becomes that much sweeter when faith is present, because one realizes that everything beautiful on earth is a gift of Love and merely a foretaste of Heaven. Life abundant flows from this world into the next.

Where Stories Dwell

I pass through smatterings of wet leaves as I wend my way though the streets to that enchanting place called a library. Someone is barbecuing sausages on this crisp fall afternoon—I can almost taste the sweet maple flavor. And despite the drizzle, expensive dogs are out walking their owners: brindles, poodles, basset hounds. Ah, give me a shaggy mutt, I think, even as I smile at whomever I pass.

But the library—yes, the library. Here we are.

Enthroned on a slope, it rises from among elderly trees with Pride and Prejudice-style beauty. Its body is patchwork stone, its crown pale green slate. And it boasts tall windows. For a little while, I can pretend this is not 2014.

Inside, I experience a microcosmic thrill compared to what Belle must have felt in those airy spaces of the Beast’s book collection. These coffered ceilings are not quite as high, but still impressive, and the woodwork dark. I sit at a long, lamplit table where I lay my laptop, and I can’t help but be encouraged by the many published books surrounding me.

On my right is a yawning fireplace—yawning like the carved lion’s head presiding above it. The grate holds birch logs that will not be set ablaze when winter seizes the island; display only, I am told. A pity, I think. What marvelous memories might have been made between two souls chatting over cocoa?

But solace in the chill may be found in gazing out the lofty panes to watch snowflakes cascading from Heaven—God decorating His creation with delicate icing that melts on the tongue.

Here, in the silence between a million pages, I hope to birth a second fruit—a new story, God willing. I’ve been told that more than one historical figure came to Nahant to spin stories, and it’s no mystery as to why: they were bewitched, forced by the sheer nature of the island’s rugged beaches, lush foliage, and serpentine roads to write. It is impossible not to love this place, and a wondrous place to fall in love. Yes, I do believe it is.

Upstairs, there is a creaking wooden staircase that beckons to a low door in the shadows. I confess, I turned the knob, but to no avail. Whatever secrets lie beyond belong to a key I do not carry. Enough secrets on this side, though, to satiate a hungry mind; there are shelves upon shelves loaded with truths and falsehoods and everything in between. Bare lightbulbs illuminate the aisles. Which book to lay my hand upon? Another confession I must make: I will not be renting books here. This library is solely a haven where I can escape the organs within an ordinary home: broom and pan, dishes, spray bottles. Here, locked in the curious balance between sunlight and gloom, I can be an 18th century authoress, pinion poised above parchment. And then I tune into that incessant clicking sound and realize that I am indeed prisoner to the 21st century. Funny that this laptop should release me into other worlds, even as it chains me to this one.

I am rambling, but this must be somewhat impossible to avoid while one is sitting in a place where stories dwell.

On This Island

Nahant is as lovely as I remember, if not more lovely. Since my arrival, almost every day has been blue, sometimes tufted with benign clouds. There is a bench overlooking the nearby beach that I like to occupy in the mornings, letting myself be lulled by the sun and the cries of the gulls as I pray. Later, when the light is falling behind the sea, you can descend to investigate the sand at low tide. If you’re feeling childlike, you might pitch a handful to watch it shatter midair. Against the backdrop of a salmon-colored sunset, you will always find sailboats, rolling gently. And when it is dark, you might see the twinkling lights of a cruise ship passing by.

Two days ago I discovered a quiet road that winds along a treacherously rocky shoreline. Stately houses stand guard above, looking out to sea as if awaiting the return of a wartime ship. One house looks out with blank eyes—the windows smoky, the green shutters weathered—and the lawn is prisoner to ferns and deadfall, an impenetrable tangle. It looks as if it could belong to an old hag that the island children fear to disturb.

I return from my explorations to a humble house where I make myself busy. I love the view from the kitchen window. A retinue of smaller trees cluster around a massive exotic-looking weeping tree—the kind you would expect to find baboons perched in. I like to keep the window open, welcoming in the fresh breeze, the sunlight, and the chittering of birds. A few trees on Nahant are turning a delicious red foreign to the prairies I come from, but most leaves are telling me summer is not quite over. I believe them. On this island, it feels as if summer could last forever.