Archive for 2012

The World at Night

Monday, December 31st, 2012

Merry 7th Day of Christmas to you all, and a Happy New Year! It’s been a glad (mad) bustle of a December and all my scribblings of late have been merely a desperate attempt to catch these sweet days in my journal as they fly. But I wanted to share this piece that I wrote for The Rabbit Room last New Year’s, as it’s something I need reminding of again, here on the cusp of 2013. Here’s to a fresh, blank page, my friends, and to all the good things our God will write upon it, in your lives and in mine…

In the twelve years that Philip and I have been married, there are only two New Years Eves we’ve spent at home. Once, early on, we had my parents over for a formal dinner. We toasted with champagne cocktails and set off a few decorous little fireworks, and Daddy chased Philip around the backyard with a flaming Roman candle, laughing all the way. The other saw me in bed with a cold, asleep well before the stroke of midnight. Every other year we have been in company of lifelong friends, gathered about a familiar hearth for an evening as comfortable as it is refined.

But this year I was too sick to go out. The kind of sick that called for soda crackers and painkillers. Philip picked up takeout that I couldn’t eat and a bottle of champagne at the grocery store, just in case. We played backgammon by the fire and listened to a stack of Christmas records and reminisced rather drowsily over the highlights of 2011. I kept threatening to go to bed and Philip kept nudging me to stick it out. Nearing midnight he disappeared into the kitchen and came back with toasting glasses: Coke for him and ginger ale for me. The perfect accompaniment to my saltines.

In many ways, such a quiet, reflective evening seemed to me an appropriate way for this year to go out. It was a wonderful year, rich and heavy with blessings, and we had many treasures to turn over in our talk by the fire that night. But 2011 also saw the continued deferment of a hope long-cherished, one which the very marrow of my soul was worn out with waiting for. January after January I have seen the new year as a fresh chance, a clean slate upon which the Lord just might create the desire of our hearts—a miracle, no less, but one which His lovely character has given me courage to keep looking for. But this New Year’s I just couldn’t seem to find my hope. It was exhausted: buried away like a tired bird in its hidden nest, head tucked under its wing and a veritable thicket of impossibility screening it from view.

I had been asking the Lord all that afternoon to show me what faith looked like in this place I am in, what shape hope might take as a symbol for her beleaguered campaign. I so wanted to end the year on a positive note; to know the radiance and splendor in the darkness, even if I couldn’t see it. I didn’t want this Christmas season to go out—and thereby be defined—by sadness and disappointed hopes, but by joy, and by a confident expectation in His ultimate goodness. I wanted the statement of faith I had endeavored to make with this holiday, the deep confession it had been of His perfect love and faithfulness, to shine out strong, not in spite of disappointment and deferred hopes, but in the face of them.

But I was so tired.

“If I can’t run to You,” I told the Lord, “then at least I can lift my head and hold out my arms.”

So midnight came, and not a moment too soon for my taste. We listened to the clock in the hall roll out the long chimes and clinked our soft drinks and laughed about how tame it all was. And then I said I was going to bed in earnest. I hoisted myself up and took a last glance at the Christmas tree, all stars and magic in the gloom.

And it was then that the fireworks began.

It has been so long since we have been home on New Year’s, we had no idea what a spectacle our neighbors had cooked up in the interim. I dropped back down beside Philip on the sofa and we sat there listening for a while, expecting it to end any moment. But the bangs and reverberations only escalated.

Philip suddenly sat up.

“Those are big—I’ll bet we could see them!”

So we jumped up and hastened outside into the cold, and there, across the road and all along the winking line of neighboring house lights, we saw the blooming explosions of color and light flaming out above the trees. Red and green, blue and gold: all profusions of falling stars with joyous booms to accompany. It was glorious, and completely unexpected: fireworks that had undoubtedly crossed the state line from vacations and holidays, flung recklessly out into the night for weary, unknown souls to feast upon. I could hardly conceive of such benevolence. Joy simply blazed up in both of us—it was as if we had never been tired; I had never been sick or sad. Philip ran to gather all the fireworks we had and I ran in the house and came back out on the front porch (in my coat this time) with the bottle of champagne and two glasses.

“I don’t care if this makes me sick,” I laughed as Philip poured mine and the bubbles foamed up and ran down over the sides of the flute.

It didn’t. I sat and watched the show over the trees and the beautiful little spectacle that my husband was staging for me there on our own front walk, sipping my champagne and looking up at the real stars overhead in the clear, cold sky. Our fireworks were not as impressive as our neighbors’, but they were exquisite to me. They were radiance in the darkness and a splendor in my own heart. Glory flaring out with a sudden beauty that made us laugh, and also made me want to cry a little bit.

A bird woke in our holly hedge and protested all the noise. I shushed her back to sleep with a smile.

Joy and sorrow—twin eggs of the same nest. They make their home together and sorrow will always wound and ply her merciful steel upon the human heart. But it’s the joy that breaks it.

It wasn’t the New Year’s we had planned or expected—even a few moments before. But there we were, sitting out in the cold on our own front steps in coats and pajamas, drinking cheap champagne and watching a New Year bloom in a sudden exultation of falling stars and kindling hopes. And although this January was scarcely half an hour old, my mind was filled with the words of The Innocence Mission song July:

the man I love and I will lift our heads together…
the world at night has seen the greatest light: too much light to deny…

Early Advent

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

Lord Jesus,
Master of both the light and the darkness,
send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do, seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things, look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways, long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy, seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking light.
To you we say,
Come Lord Jesus….

~Henri Nouwen

Today I’m making gingerbread for the Christmas tree and wreaths for the kitchen windows. Tonight we will trim our tree and tomorrow I will hang the Advent Wreath in the den window and light the candles for the first time. I cannot believe that this blessed time is really upon us. But in the midst of my bustle today, I wanted to drop a little line here to wish you all a most holy and wondrous Advent and days of increasing joy as we approach Christmas. (How long these December days seemed to draw themselves out when we were children, and how they vanish and flee as adults!)

I also wanted to share a piece that I wrote for the Art House America blog, if anyone is interested. I have to say, this was seriously one of the most difficult things I have ever written–like I told one friend, I wrestled this essay to the ground and came up limping. It’s something I rarely talk about, and I confess to a certain degree of inner conflict over even posting this link. There is an illusion of safety, you know, in relative anonymity. But it’s not safety we’re made for–it’s goodness. The goodness of God and the honor of sharing that goodness with other souls. Forgive my fear and trembling, kind friends, and thank you for the many ways in which you have given me courage to keep putting words out there.

Lo, How a Rose

Kilmeny of the Orchard

Monday, November 26th, 2012

Almost a year ago I had the pleasure of announcing the first title in the newly-inaugurated Low Door Press, a bindery dedicated to producing books created entirely by hand. The response to Kilmeny of the Orchard was overwhelming—and heart-warming. I cannot even begin to say what your enthusiasm and encouraging words have meant to me during this journey into bookbinding. My passion to create a work of beauty that would not only honor the book itself, but reflect the time-honored craft of book artisanship has meant with such sympathy in the world beyond my little workshop, and I am deeply blessed. Say what you will about the degeneracy of the age, I am thankful to live in a world in which I can still make books by hand—and in which there are those who will still appreciate them.

From the original book description:

The pages are acid-free rag content and the signatures were folded and sewn entirely by hand onto cotton tapes with Irish bookbinder’s thread. I used an archival PVA book glue and traditional English mull for the binding, and the headbanding at the head and tail of the spine are silk. The book cloth is Dover linen and the endpapers are Italian cotton. The artwork, consisting of a cover plate and frontispiece, is from original oils painted by my sister, and the cases were individually debossed and inked on an early-twentieth century engraver’s press. I would not even be able to begin to say how many hours went into each book, but I can avow that every one of them was a labor of love.

Keep in mind that any slight imperfections are owing to the fact that these books are handmade from start to finish. The only modern machine involved was the printer.

You can read more about the process here, if you’re interested.

The original run of 100 books took over two years to complete, but today I am happy to be able to say that the final 15 books have been listed in the Shop.

Unfortunately, due to copyright restrictions, I can only sell them to residents of the U.S. Thank you for your understanding.

A Time to Embrace

Friday, November 16th, 2012

November 14th

I’m sitting by my kitchen fire this chill November evening after a long day of almost monkish domesticity. I’ve been so industrious today that this welcome pause is almost too much: the warmth of the fire and the weariness of my bones is conjuring a somnolent spell I can scarcely resist. But my heart is wide awake, enlarging with a quiet presence that I can’t gainsay. Tired as I am, I must find utterance for this shining thing within, howsoever imperfectly. It’s so persistent, so ingenuously obdurate, I fear if I tried to go to sleep now I’d simply lay there spinning words and weaving sentences, the threads of which have been darting around the corners of my mind all afternoon. I have to acknowledge this radiance that has settled to roost in my heart like a homing bird—because it’s my own joy, come back to me in a silent rush of unseen wings.

It’s been just the kind of day I love—just the kind of day to coax my joy out of hiding. I’ve been so intent on surviving mere circumstances recently that I’ve scarcely noticed the springs of my life were running dangerously low. It wasn’t until I felt that sudden uplift this afternoon at the sweet scent of decaying leaves, that giddy plunge of happiness borne on a gustering autumn wind, that I realized what had happened—and what was happening again, in the mercy of God. He has been kindling my weary soul the past few days with sword-flashes of light: a fireside evening with a sister-friend, swapping grace tales over a pot of tea; the laughing joy of watching a Nubian goatling bound and stot into the shocking freshness of a November morning; the stupendous simplicity of a nourishing soup and the tang a Winesap apple so laden with happy associations it almost summons tears. And brimming over all, the mounting, blooming wonder of Advent, approaching on tireless wings. So many of the year’s heartaches have dwindled to their proper proportions before that bright-gleaming Bird.

And this very fact is grace in itself, and the source of so much of my joy on this mid-November night. Much as I hate to admit it, three days ago I was paralyzingly overwhelmed with the thought of the holidays. This year has taken so much out of me that I felt I had nothing left to give, particularly in this season that I love best. I was so overwhelmed, in fact, that I sat down to have it out with God one morning with something akin to Jacob’s desperation in wrestling with the angel. Give me some guidance or I perish! I settled on the couch with my Bible and an enormous cup of tea, prepared to stay there as long as it took, despite the obnoxious insistence of my planner and a Monday to-do list that was more than I could possibly accomplish in a week. If I couldn’t find my lost place of peace, then all my best-laid-plans were worse than worthless, and I knew it.

And this is what God said:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens.

Such simple words, but what enormous freedom they bore to me! I don’t have to “do it all”, and I don’t have to do it all at once. There are seasons for ambitions and for rest, for lavish acts of love and for homely gifts, for weaving words madly into story and prose and for sitting quiet and prayerful with pen poised over a Christmas menu. God has been reminding me keenly of late (life-changingly, I really believe) that He is not asking me to do things for Him, but to walk with Him. And I am coming to understand that so much of the intimacy of that journey depends on understanding the season I am in and how best to love God from that particular place. I read through the list of seasons which the chapter in Ecclesiastes tallies, and I found myself asking God to tell me the season I’m in.

It was scarcely out of my mouth when quick as a wink the words blazed on the page and burned in my heart: a time to embrace.

A time to kiss all the faces of my beloved ones. A time to pour into the lives of those I love. And a time, itself, to be embraced, for it will not come again. Though Advent invades our lives every year with its blessed presence, though the beloved bother of the holidays puts everything on hold that can be put on hold, this particular time will never come again.  It was both sobering and exhilarating, a lightning charge of joy and energy that seemed to shock through me and shock all my joys awake. Nothing—and I mean nothing—has been the same since. A joyful anticipation has burgeoned and bloomed in my heart and every familiar, commonplace thing I see around me seems bathed in its light. I really feel like the Lord whispered to me the grace of the season and my spirit rose instinctively to greet it—because it is my place. It where I am to be for now, in the mercy of God, waiting and preparing beneath His sheltering wings. There is no other explanation for this return of joy and energy. And it’s real.

Today the music of Palestrina filled my home with soul-soothing accord, a whispered acknowledgement of things to come, a respectful nod to the swelling anthems of the holy season that is gathering its glory to visit us once more. Almost an advent of Advent, it seemed. The strains and harmonies and antiphonies bore my heart along with a joy that felt newborn as I polished silver and washed curtains and mulled over Christmas centerpieces while the fire hissed and crackled companionably on the hearth. And over all, stitching everything together into one fragrant, intentional whole, the aroma of apple butter brewing away, decanting a magic of all that is wholesome and homeloving and good. My home was filled with such a warmth of spices and woodsmoke it felt like an embrace.

So, the season is upon us.

And my arms are open wide.

The Way to England

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

You cannot get to England by bus, or train,
          or any of the customary modes of transportation.
Even a car will only bring you to the gates—
          but these are everywhere, of course, wanting but
                     the beholder.

There will be a style, or a post worn smooth
          by fellow sojourners’ hands,
                     and a small wooden sign pointing the way to England.
They really can’t be missed, these portals, though they often are,
          hurried past in what must seem an insult to their invitation.

To find England, you must venture from the toil trodden ways
          into unmarked lanes and well-worn footpaths—
                     the arteries and leafy veins of her evergreen heart.
You must stain your fingers purple with the fruit of the jeweled hedgerows,
          and grant a respectful audience to the robin bursting
                     his heart with song for you in the hawthorn hard-by.
You must sally forth like an adventurer of old, with sandwiches
          in a field bag and a water bottle bouncing against you knee and
                     perhaps a stick for good measure, though certainly not required.

You will need a map, limp with much folding, and a pair of stout shoes,
          impervious to mud and the occasional ford. And a heart that bends its
                     knee to beauty. That is all.
And what will you gain for such vagabond ways? For the lane’s
          gentle summons and your kind heart to heed it? Well might you ask,
                     and full fair I make answer—

Yours will be the spice-scented fern and all the oriental wealth of the wild
          foxglove, nodding in courtly deference as you pass. The furze will spangle
                     its gossamer with diamonds for your pleasure, and your way
will be cast with the pearls of the wood dove’s plume. The emerald moss
          will offer itself for your repose—so velvet a throne a queen might covet!—
                     and the woods, with their holy aisles and long-shadowed silences,
will hold their breath in reverence for your prayers, while the wind chants antiphonies
          among the orieled patches of sky.

A field will bare its green bosom and cosset your soul, like the lambs and ewes
          nourished thereby, and you will long to lie down in that peace,
                     it will be so sweet. And cresting
some hill, steep and irresistible of ascent, you will find yourself sudden monarch
          of all you survey: an ancient domain cast from your height
                     in all points of the compass.
A kingdom primeval of verdure and gilt,
          fading past sight into blue dreaming hazes.

There the wind will show you its wildness, lifting your heart clean off
          its sane footing. And there the white gulls will wing their aerial
                     dances for your delight.
All of these things I give you in promise, and more that cannot be uttered,
          so great is their gift. If you will but commit your ways to the countryside,
                     returning the kiss of the gracious sun
and lifting your face to the favor of a wind-washed shower; if you will but love
          the elf-light passing through clouds and gamboling over the landscape
                     with ripples of grace,
and court her fairy-haunted hollows in silence and sweet fancy—

—then, O wayfarer, I pledge with all the firm compact of gallantry’s code—

          You will find her, England fair.

                     And your heart will not be unlost.

I wrote this poem in England last autumn on a beloved Dorset hilltop, and I’m missing the place so painfully I thought I’d share it. Incidentally, I penned another which I wrote about here, and which managed to find its way into print this autumn by way of The Molehill. 🙂

A Surprise, an Ambition, and a Secret

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

This year has been flying so fast it seems every time I turn my head another month slips by. How can it already be October?

I’ve been so busy of late, both at home and abroad. In September I had the joy of a much-anticipated houseguest, and later that week she was able to journey with Philip and me up to Nashville to attend The Rabbit Room’s annual Hutchmoot gathering. (And if you’re wondering what the heck a Hutchmoot is, well, all I can say is it’s a jamboree of Feasting and Story and Song, heavily influenced by the legacy of the Inklings and with a fringe element of pipe smokery. Basically, a four day meeting comprised of people who, as L.M. Montgomery would say, have not forgotten the way to fairyland.) I don’t think we drew breath from the moment I picked Sarah up at the airport—the time was so precious and the topics we had to discuss were so many and varied—that is, not until we actually got in the car to drive up to Tennessee. Poor Philip had to ride for four hours in total silence as Sarah and I pored over books and stared thoughtfully out the window and jotted notes in last minute preparation for the talk we were giving together the next day. But aren’t those the best kinds of friends, the ones with whom you can be easily as quiet as loquacious?

I’m working hard to get more books listed in The Shop in the coming days. I have some lovely new (old) titles that I’m really excited about. But in the meantime, I thought I’d give you just a little taste of what I’ve been up to…

First of all, I am delighted to announce that The Rabbit Room has released its first ever anthological journal, The Molehill, a collection of original works by the contributors to this remarkable way-beyond-merely-online community. (There are also pieces by the venerable Walt Wangerin, Jr. and the dearly-loved and esteemed Sally Lloyd-Jones—facts which nearly paralyzed me with terror at the outset of crafting my own short story contribution.) As editor and general book art genius, A.S. “Pete” Peterson has done a simply breathtaking job with this book—I knew it was going to be beautiful, but I was blown away when he put it in my hands at Hutchmoot last month. In his preface, he calls it a “family photo”,

“a snapshot of a group of people and where they are at this moment in time, in their writing, in their lives, in their spiritual journeys, in their understanding of stories and songs and the world around them.”

Well, if that’s the case, I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this family, and to be squinting at the camera between Andrew Peterson and Sarah Clarkson, two of my favorite people in the whole world. (And again, on page 163, shouldering up to Evie Coates, pro bon vivant and veritable wizardress of the kitchen realms—can you tell I love these people?)

The Molehill is available in The Rabbit Room store, and you can read Pete’s preface in its entirely here. Trust me, this book is a gem, over two hundred pages bursting with essay and story and poetry and pictures—and recipes! And, as Philip pointed out, the best thing about it might just be that enticing little “vol. 1” on the cover. Here’s to The Molehill, and many more to come!

In other news, I have been writing like mad on my novel. That’s all I’m going to say about that, as I’ve placed myself under a dictum of silence till the thing is done. (It’s so much easier to talk about writing than to, you know, actually write.) I’m also mortally afraid of scaring away the muse by even pretending I’m sure what she’s up to; as it is, I’ve been tempting her to stick around with every treat and morsel I can think of. I’ve made a steep challenge for myself, a deadline for this draft, and it’s going to take a sustained and determined effort to pull it off.

Here’s a snapshot of my reading and research materials. Just the sight of all those titles spelling out the way my thoughts and heart are turning towards my novel of late are enough to drive me back to my desk.

And, finally, in a last heartless tease, I’m going to leave you with an image that will give you an inkling of one more direction in which my ambitions are bent these days. Formal announcement forthcoming, but things are definitely beginning to percolate around here…

Happy October, friends!

Summer’s Lease

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart. ~Celia Thaxter

This past Saturday I was standing on the beach at Sapelo Island off the coast of Georgia. It was an absolutely perfect summer day. We had taken the ferry over from the mainland early in the morning, before the rolling, sun-shot mists had fully cleared from the marshes and spits of land we passed. Indeed, even Sapelo itself brooded under that same, luminous vapor, the dark line of its trees an indistinct blur beneath an alchemy of warmth and humidity and something not quite canny. Only the spire of the lighthouse stood out against all that witchery, solid and undaunted, a thing very firmly of this earth. The sight of it made me feel that we were, indeed, traveling to a real place, and not just a vanishing figment of Brigadoon-like fancy. I stood at the helm by my husband’s side, cherishing the sunlight, and the wind that was wreaking havoc with my hair, and the purple martins wheeling overhead, dropping bits of song as they dipped and swung through the air in the most graceful bird ballet imaginable.

The landing was a vibrant melee of greetings and arrivals, the mountainous suitcases and crates of returning residents and the shouldered packs and bags of day-trippers like us. I was taken with the island’s energy the moment we set foot on its shore—it was a palpable thing, generations in the making, and though Sapelo only boasts a population of around 50 in the most generous of calculations, it’s been so thoroughly inhabited by those who have lived there that one is rather awed by the tenacity of such fierce love and pride. It’s almost as if the hard lines of distinction between the people and the place have grown so thin that it’s difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. I felt a strange, wordless sympathy with these jostling fellow passengers of mine—I, too, have known the love of an island, though my residence can only be measured in weeks, not years. But it doesn’t take long to be taken by a place in a way that will never let you go. In my case—with my island—it had been a matter of moments.

Summer afternoon - summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language. ~Henry James

Sapelo was truly beautiful, in a wild, unnamable, unmanageable way. Plenty of moss-hung oaks to suit my fancy, and stands of lovely, olive-colored slash pines with their twisting branches and exquisite little cones. But it wasn’t until we came to the beach that I really began to feel the place open its heart to me: a sweeping curve of silver-white sand, flanked by snowy dunes crowned with the nodding plumes of feathery sea oats. The sky arched blue and cloudless over all that white and green, and only the faintest hints and shreds of mist on the horizon gave evidence of the morning’s light-filled shrouding. It looked like the place had never been troubled by the least human intrusion—indeed, were it not for the quiet clutches we met on the boardwalk and along the sand, one might be tempted to think that civilization had never so much as set eyes on the place.

Arriving with the turn of the tide, we had come upon the jovial, milling aftermath of a Gullah ocean baptism service. The children, freed from such late solemnities, were flinging themselves into the waves with a wildness of joy that literally made my heart ache. Their shrieks filled the stately silence of the place like music; their dark limbs flashing in and out of the water were as graceful and un-self-conscious as the rhythmic movements of deer passing between the shades of a wood. They made me think of the silvery whiting glimpsed off-shore in summer, springing out of the ocean in an apparent ecstasy of flight, only to vanish before you are quite sure you’ve seen them. I watched the mad antics for a while until their mothers began calling them out of the waves—and, doubtless, home to meals the rest of the world can only dream about—and then I turned away with a yearning that bordered on envy.

I envied them more than their delectable midday dinner; I wanted their wildness and freedom, their absolute unconcern for the responsibilities and respectabilities of grown-up life.

I coveted their uncontested, eternal possession, which is summertime itself.

Summer and I haven’t been on very friendly terms in recent years. Slowly, imperceptibly, I’ve let my early love for it become choked by the weeds of discomfort and discontent. I’ve gotten grouchy over the weather (too much rain or not enough of it), the humidity (which can really be a Southern girl’s friend, if she will only cooperate with it), the sad reality of overly-ambitious, unmet goals. (And that’s not even touching on the bugs. I am a walking mosquito-feast.) For several years running, I’ve gotten mired in the dog days and gone gasping into the blessed relief of September like an exhausted runner tumbling over the finish line.

In short, I’ve lost the magic, the charm that children know, that makes summer one long, endless idyll.

But this summer was different, shiningly, strikingly so. It had nothing to do with circumstances or lack of difficulties—in many ways it was one of the hardest summers of my life. Perhaps that is why God in his grace saw fit to give so lavishly of what my soul was so parched for. He gave me the sea: the coast of Georgia and my own beloved island, in an unprecedented abundance. The timeliness of it all overwhelmed me with a gratitude I could scarcely name: the novel I am working on is set in this part of the world, and while I know it like the back of my hand, the gift of so many weeks spent in the vicinity is a favor I am determined to acknowledge with a long winter of hard work.

“If it could only be like this always – always summer, always alone, the fruit always ripe and Aloysius in a good temper...” ~Evelyn Waugh

I’ve been salt-kissed and windblown and I’ve grown so brown I hardly know myself. I’ve eaten freshly boiled shrimp with my fingers on the beach and more oysters on the half shell than I care to confess. I’ve romped in the ocean with my dog, and I’ve sailed around the dance floor of an exquisitely-appointed room in my husband’s arms to the music of a jazz quartet. I’ve lived for weeks at a time in bathing suits and sundresses and I’ve actually watched the sunset, not merely noticed it in passing. I’ve read fluffy novels and I’ve journaled like mad and I’ve given myself the permission to merely sit on the beach and think. Of nothing.

The cure for anything is salt water—sweat, tears, or the sea. I wish I had said that, but Isak Dinesen beat me to it. Oh, but it’s true. I have been cured of many things during these weeks by the sea, healed in ways I can only begin to suspect at this point. Old barnacled accumulations, old insecurities and insincerities have fallen away, shed like the hermit crab’s shell, and I’ve been filled, replenished and reoriented in a way I have never known. I’m so grateful, so eager to pour these gifts of grace into my life and work at home. I know what the Psalmist meant when he said he was literally weighted down with blessings.

But on this particular day, standing on Nanny Goat Beach at Sapelo Island, I felt a sudden loss. A cold sadness clutched me, there in the midst of all that warmth and beauty. Watching the children play, feeling the water cool against my bare feet and turning my face to the kindness of the sun, something desperate rose up inside of me. I looked to the south, towards an island I couldn’t see but knew was there, an emerald set upon a golden band of salt marsh. Then I turned to Philip, my big white sunglasses dropped down over my burning eyes.

“I’m not ready to be done—with this,” sweeping my arm towards the sea. “With summer.”

He understood. The day before we had left Jekyll Island behind us and come to a charming little port town we often visit, beloved in its own right. But it wasn’t Jekyll. When we checked into our little inn overlooking the Altamaha, I smiled bravely, laughing at my own sentiment. But inside I felt bereft, bereaved. Homesick. I had promised Philip that I wouldn’t disgrace myself when we were leaving the island—he teases me that the people at the hotel must think he’s awfully mean to me, the way my happiness in that place seems to overflow in such a watery way at the least prompting. As we had come over the causeway, however, in the opposite direction my heart wanted to be going, the silent tears had run down my cheeks one after another. It’s never easy to leave, but it’s excruciating when I don’t know when I’ll return. At other times I can blow a kiss over my shoulder with relative composure, steel myself for the long drive home with plans and schemes for maximizing the time between this visit and our next. But on this August day, with the late afternoon sun turning the water to silver and the marshes to gold, I just didn’t know. And I wasn’t sure I could bear it.

We thoroughly enjoyed the rest of our stay on Sapelo and took the ferry back, tired and happy and dewy with a glazing of sunscreen and bug spray. We had lunch at a sidewalk café, and as elegant dinner plans were in the offing (it was our last evening before heading home the next day) we both agreed that naps were in order. But first we wandered into a couple of shops on the miniscule main street. Browsing the aisles of a book stall, I innocently picked up a tome on the area and flipped it open—right to the chapter on Jekyll Island. I turned a page and stared down at an image of my favorite beach in the whole world. I felt the tears rising, sensed that ominous burning in the back of my throat, and I knew that in another moment I’d be utterly undone. I closed the book and hastily returned it to its place. It hurt too much to think of Jekyll being so near—not thirty miles away and—

And in that instant I had an idea, one of those inspirations that simply will not be gainsaid. I hurried out of the shop and found Philip, who was already wandering through an antique store across the street. The moment he saw me he knew something was up.

“Uh-oh,” he grinned. “She’s got that Jekyll look in her eye.”

That man knows me better than I know myself.

I spilled my plan in a tumble of excitement while he grinned and shook his head.

“Well, I wasn’t up for a big dinner, anyway,” he laughed. “But I’d better get that nap in!”

So while he went back to the room, I set my lovely scheme in motion. First I ducked into the little wine shop on the main street and picked out a nice bottle of red and a round of local brie. When the woman behind the counter learned that it was for a picnic—and such an impromptu one, at that—her eyes kindled in a sympathetic smile. With the air of a sudden ally, she tucked two paper plates into the bag, a stack of napkins, two plastic cups and a knife for our cheese.

Across the street at the olive gourmet, I explained my plan all over again, and met with the same kindness and enthusiasm. The proprietress entered into the spirit of things, turning out a freshly-baked loaf of artisan bread, a collection of Greek olives, a jar of homemade tomato bisque (“delicious at room temperature”) and a couple of ice-cold Izzy sodas. Into the bag went two plastic spoons and two York Peppermint Pattys for dessert. (I pinched a couple of paper bowls from the breakfast area of our inn for the soup, lest you imagine we ate it out of the jar.)

“One must maintain a little bittle of summer, even in the middle of winter.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Moments later we were dressed for dinner in bathing suits and cover-ups, our little roadster speeding towards Jekyll like a martin to its gourd. When we arrived on the island again my heart leapt with as much joy as if it had been an exile of months—years—and not a mere 24 hours. I felt I had been given something very precious to hold and that I must not drop the least moment. And just as in all of our most timeless times, I knew there was a dash of eternity in it. We drove around to the north end of the island, took the long and well-loved path to the beach, and spread our little blanket under a familiar arch of driftwood. We swam and laughed and walked and remembered—and ate! My goodness, we ate. The feast we had forgone at a nice restaurant was nothing to this banquet of pure beauty spread out before us. That same cerulean sky that had smiled over us all day; the waves rolling gently into the tidal pools and the whiting flinging themselves out of the sea for joy. The sun setting over our shoulders behind the line of trees, washing that boneyard of writhing driftwood with a stain of saffron and rose. We slathered our crusty bread with brie and sipped our wine out of plastic cups, and felt like the heir and heiress of the whole world.

"Summer's lease hath all too short a date." ~Shakespeare

It was a microcosm of the summer’s gifts; a strong, golden-hued cordial distilled from a harvest of sunlit days. And with that one, final grace, my cup overflowed in wordless prayer. Thank You, thank You, thank You…

When the light and the tide told us it was time to go, I took one, last, long look around. Then I smiled up at Philip, not bravely this time, but easily, happily, like a sun-sated child. We walked back along the shore in a contented silence, and as we turned into the sandy path I blew a kiss to the beach over my shoulder. I didn’t know when I would be back. I only knew I would. And that was enough.

It still hurt to leave. But as we went over the bridge, I looked back and saw the lights from the hotel shimmering out like fairy lamps among the live oaks. And in the sky above, a heavy, red moon hanging low over my island, spilling its amber wealth over the water like a bridge of light.

Summer must really be over when you see a moon like that, I thought with a sigh.

But I’ll never be done with this summer. The tan and the bug bites will fade; my hair will lose some of the highlights the sun gives out for free. But this summer has left its permanent mark on me. I’m more myself than I have been in years. And I will never be the same again.

"When summer gathers up her robes of glory, and, like a dream, glides away." ~Sarah Helen Whitman

Flying in the Face

Monday, August 20th, 2012

A year ago I embarked on a reckless (and often humiliating) venture into the French language, and to mark the occasion I’m re-posting this piece I wrote for The Rabbit Room last summer about my decision to take the plunge.

But before I can do that, I find myself honor-bound in an equally-reckless pledge to my friend Katie. I gave her my word that I would share the following vignette in preamble, a testament to my progress with this elusive tongue. It’s hard to refuse a friend who is wiping the laughter-induced tears from her eyes–and I love her so much it’s hard to refuse her anything. But I will be perfectly honest: I don’t want to tell this story. It will give me away and it’s downright embarrassing. Mayhap my kind readers will get a good-natured laugh at my expense, however. After all, it never does to take oneself too seriously…

Last month, my husband and I were sitting in the lobby of a beautiful old hotel off the coast of Georgia. We were celebrating my birthday with a little apéritif before journeying over to a neighboring island for dinner. As has become our custom, we were chatting about our day in French. He knew all about my day, of course, as he’d spent nearly every moment of it in my company. But it’s a good way for me to practice my tenses and verbs, and always brings up vocabulary I’ve never encountered before (remember that). Perhaps I let my birthday go to my head; perhaps the lovely atmosphere induced a sense of overarching confidence. At any rate, I got a bit above myself, and started telling Philip about the nap I had taken that afternoon: such a sieste grande, in fact, that I had actually awakened to find I had, ahem, drooled a bit on my pillow.

I haven’t learned the French for ‘drool’ yet, being that it’s not a word I seem to have much need of on a daily basis. But in my optimism, I simply snatched a word I do know–l’eau–and cheerfully informed my mystified husband that I was, indeed, sleeping so well that I’d had the water coming from my mouth.

As soon as I had uttered this unfortunate statement, I realized to my horror that a woman was passing within earshot and that there was no doubt that she had heard me. This would not have troubled me in the least, excepting the fact that we had seen her around the hotel, and, what’s more–heard her. As soon as she had opened her mouth, Philip and I both knew she was French. Probably Parisian. How striking it can be to hear your native language being spoken in a foreign land, howsoever imperfectly, and our ears naturally prick up to the sound. Bless her heart–she probably wished to goodness that hers hadn’t.

I can only imagine what she was thinking as, after a brief, incredulous glance at me, she continued on, only to hear Philip’s heartfelt consolation:

“Désolé! Je regrette que tu as un problème avec l’eau qui vient de ta bouche quand tu dors!”

When Philip and I were in Paris a few years ago, he took me to the Annick Goutal shop on the Rue Bellechasse to buy me some perfume. With a characteristic twist of City-of-Light-magic, we stepped off the bustling little street and into what seemed for all the world like a nineteenth-century parfumerie. The walls were lined with open shelves painted buttery-cream and touched with gilt, all bearing the same simple offerings of iconic ivory boxes, and in the center of the tiny store stood a mahogany display table, ranged with ribbon-topped bottles of scent like debutantes lined up for a dance.

I was enchanted, and, despite the close quarters, completely overwhelmed. At that moment a clerk in a smart black dress appeared from behind a velvet curtain and proceeded to welcome us in her mellifluous tongue, and to ask how she could be of assistance. Philip answered her at once, with that utterly un-self-conscious ease of his that had been continually amazing me from the moment we’d touched down at Charles de Gaulle. He speaks French beautifully, though he’d be the first to deny it, and I loved watching him banter with the crêpe man at his cart on Saint-Germain and the vendors of roses in the Marché aux Fleurs. (There was the little incident at the Rive Gauche café wherein the woman waiting on us stoutly declared—in English, no less—that there was no such thing as a “croissant with chocolate inside of it”. She must have been having a bad day, for the customer next to us at the counter simply laid down her newspaper and remarked quite calmly, in French, “Of course he means a pain au chocolat.” Which, of course, he did. Without her intervention, I fear we might have gone breakfast-less that morning.)

I smiled rather lamely at the bright Frenchwoman as she showed us around the parfumerie, chattering away over the various top notes and essences. In Paris, as in other places we’ve traveled, it has been my code to wear black and keep my mouth shut, endeavoring to avoid the quintessential stereotype of the American abroad—which is itself a stereotype, I am well aware. Nevertheless, I maintained my credo with a modicum of dignity, sniffing the samples she provided, enjoying the melody of the language as she and my husband conversed over roses and jasmine and honeysuckle, picking up the bottles in turn to read their bewitching names. All was going well until the shopkeeper turned to me with a direct question, her eyes alight with friendly inquiry and her words falling out in a rill of beautiful incomprehensibility. I blushed and blurted that I didn’t speak French, and without batting an eye she repeated her question in English.

Something must have snapped in me at that moment, I remember it with such crystalline clarity. I didn’t want to be on the outside of such a magical language—I wanted to learn the spell that would put such beauty into my mouth, give me the savoir faire to move among the people of a world so different from my own. A latent desire sparked awake in that little gilt and crystal shop and I wanted it so bad I could taste it.

Philip picked up a bottle and grinned at the name.

’Ce Soir ou Jamais’,” the shopkeeper laughed, then turned to me with arched eyebrows and a very Parisian tilt of her head, “Tonight—or never!”

We all laughed together at the melodrama implied and I dutifully wafted the sample under my nose. The breath of Turkish roses was intoxicatingly tempting, with its slightly grassy balance and hints of jasmine and pear—a bit more daring than anything I’d worn before. In the end, however, I went with the lovely La Violette, exquisitely uncomplicated in its old-fashioned reserve. I think Philip could have seen that one coming.

When I told him later of my resolution to learn French he was delighted. It was something we could share, another cord of communion to tangibly express the great mystery of making one life out of two. I have to confess, I am continually humbled by the enthusiastic sympathy with which he greets my desires and the practical ways he accommodates my ambitions. Marriage to him has been a flourishing in good, rich ground; a growing into dreams I didn’t even know I had.

Nevertheless, with all his encouragement, with the boon of a French-speaking husband upon which to try out my halting attempts, year after year slipped by without my acquiring much more confidence or vocabulary than a few highly useful phrases like, “Would you like some ice cream?” and “The chickens are in the henhouse.” I chalked up my remarkable failure to a computer program that didn’t work, an audio series that was missing the book, and general busyness (most mauvais of all). But the fact is, I was just too scared. I blushed when I said things to him, across our own kitchen table. What sounded like music in his mouth got stuck in the back of my throat. I psyched myself up, at his laughing pep talk, to order in French at our favorite boulangerie and then punted at the last minute, asking for “a couple of coffees and two croissants with chocolate inside of them”.

It seemed hopeless.

“You have to be an actor,” Philip told me again and again. “You have to just throw yourself out there—overdo it. Play the role of a French person.”

Of course, it’s what the best language teachers will tell you. (And most other teachers in their own way, I’d imagine, from writing to sky-diving.) Adventure presupposes risk; a step in the direction of a dream is often a deliberate revolt against a comparatively snug complacency. The desire accomplished may be sweet to the soul, but it often exacts a steep price from our ego.

The jolly Chesterton said it best: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

If there’s anything God has been teaching me in the past year, it’s that flying in the face of fear is one of the best ways to shock my soul awake, like a plunge into cold water after a wild flight on a rope swing. Impracticability forces me to rely on Him in practical ways. To be sure, the gremlins I’ve endeavored to stare down might look more like Gizmo to stouter souls than mine. But God knows my weakness, and I believe He knows just where to kindle my heart with desire to flame light into those dark places of insecurity and self-reliance. “Delight yourself in the Lord,” the Psalmist urges, “and He will give you the desires of your heart.” God often grants desire, astonishingly and miraculously. But perhaps it’s more wondrous still that He gives it, employing even the lesser yearnings of our nature to keep us alive to that sehnsucht we’re all so blessedly cursed with.

In the light of this charge towards a more holy recklessness, my husband threw down a dare a few weeks ago. He had listened patiently to the latest installment in the Lanier-wants-to-learn-French saga, had assured me for the eleventy-first time that I could do it. Then he looked me straight in the eye.

“I’ll give you one week to find a tutor.”

A tutor? A thousand excuses rushed to my lips: too expensive, too time-consuming. Too terrifying. But instead I took the hand he offered and shook it solemnly.


In the end, God outdid my expectations by providing a tutor I would not have initially approached. I would have been way too (idiotically) intimidated, though I’ve known him most of my life. An erstwhile missionary to France and an extraordinarily gifted linguist, his French is so perfect even the French admire it. He’s the kind of person I would have been happy to practice my conversational skills on—after about twenty years of study. And instead, not two weeks after my challenge, I was sitting with him in the courtyard of a coffee shop in town, telling him I preferred thé vert over café noir and whether I was going to the supermarket en voiture or à pied. I think God thought it was hilarious.

“For an hour and a half, I’m going to speak pretty much nothing but French to you, Lanier,” he told me. “And you’re going to speak French to me.”

It seemed so preposterous—and conspicuous. I have a horror of looking stupid and my self-conscious sensibilities quailed at the thought of being overheard in my incompetence by the other patrons. I felt like everyone would be staring at me—bemusedly. (As if they were all writers, or something. Writers stare at people. And they write things in notebooks, which can be very disconcerting to highly-sensitive individuals.)

There were evidently no writers among the clientele that afternoon, however, for no one paid us the slightest attention. Several people were smoking and a couple of dogs barked at each other across the courtyard. A delivery truck pulled up in the cobbled alley we were facing with a snort of diesel exhaust.

“This feels like Paris!” my friend laughed, settling back in his chair with a smile of satisfaction. “Vas-tu à l’église ce soir?”

Ce soir—that I knew, and I think I replied that, yes, I was going to church that night. But “ce soir” inevitably summons the words “ou jamais” on its heels, Philip and I have laughed about it so many times since our afternoon in the parfumerie. And out of the jumble of ballet French and random vocabulary I’ve pocketed over the years, I pulled out another adverb, coupling it with the one I had in hand as a sort-of motto for my aventure en Français:

Maintenant ou jamais. Now or never.

And while I’m throwing caution to the winds, it might just be the time to try out a new scent. Pourquoi pas?

some days

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Some days are just kind of stupid.

You sit there early, hands cupped around a half-mug of cold coffee, feeling that the world beyond your own bed is exhausting. And perhaps just a little bit insupportable. Vacations, among other things, will do that do to you.

You haven’t the heart to consult the best-laid-plan you made so cheerfully the night before. (And well past your bedtime, I might add.)  You know it’s just way too long.

And too optimistic.

And perfectionistic.

You contemplate last night’s dishes crowding the sink and you very sensibly decide to take a walk. And then you come right back inside, beaten and subdued by August itself before you’re fairly out of the gate.

Some days are just like that.

Some days you have to close the cover on your screaming day planner and walk past the dishes like they’re not even there. You have to drive with the top down and the music up. (Kind of loud.) You make an impulsive date with a dashingly handsome man you are wildly in love with (and who happens to be your husband).

Some days there is simply nothing to be done but to put on his favorite dress and sip champagne over a stolen lunch.

Some days you need to stop and look at the things you have loved all your life like you have never seen them before. And remember why you love them.

Some days you need a cold dog nose under your hand and some days you need a soft blanket and a fluffy book. And some days you need a spritz of fancy perfume.

Today was one of the latter. And like a tiny vacation of its own, it lifted me out of the everyday muck and mire of post-vacation blues and plunked me down with wonder into the gift of the moment.

We’ve been away for a while, out gallivanting along the coast in our Airstream. For two weeks I sat on the beach and watched the tide come and go and slowly digested Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea. (More on that later. I hope.) She gave me a lot to think about, but one of the most striking points was something I’ve already felt God stirring in my own heart all summer: the necessity of living in the moment, as that is the only place that life is to be found. Nearly sixty years ago she made the point that Americans on the whole are very bad at this:

Perhaps the historian or the sociologist or the philosopher would say that we are still propelled by our frontier energy, still conditioned by our pioneer pressures or our Puritan anxiety to “do ye next thing.”

Lindbergh contrasts this frantic race for the future (be it next year or next month or the next moment—“Ah, then I will begin to live!”) with the atmosphere of Europe, constrained by the horrors of two world wars (and another half-century of turmoil, I might add) into a forced appreciation of the present: “A golden eternity of here and now.” This is an extremely simplistic commentary on both her words and the historical characteristics of Europe and America, but I really think she’s on to something. All I have to do is look across the Pond to my European friends (and remember the life I’ve lived intermittently and occasionally among them) to believe she’s right. If I had to name something quintessentially European, it would be that gift they possess of living in the moment. Being fully present. “Even if it means merely a walk in the country on Sunday or sipping a cup of black coffee at a sidewalk café.”

The world has gotten bigger since the post-war days in which Anne’s words were penned (or smaller, depending on how you want to look at it) but the significance of the moment we’re in is no less glorious than it ever has been or ever will be. It is the superlative masterpiece of God’s gift of life; it is the place where joy stabs us and sorrow keens us awake. It is holy, kindled with sacred fire.

It’s all we have.

My present today of a pretty dress and a quick lunch with my husband is now past. But I will remember that smack in the middle of a very busy day we held hands and talked about someday. And it made today so very sweet.

Some days are just kind of teeming and pulsing with the miracle.

And that’s when we know that they all are.

In deed and in truth

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Last month, I had the great privilege of interviewing one of my heroines, Andi Ashworth, upon the occasion of the re-release of her book, Real Love for Real Life by the Rabbit Room Press. You can find the interview here, and I really urge you not only to avail yourself of the gentle wisdom of her replies to my questions (questions I would have asked her if we’d been sitting face-to-face, so this interview really was a gift to me!), but to purchase and read and share her book, as well. (And while you’re at it, check out my friend Janna Barber’s heartfelt review.) Andi has a perspective on caring as a lifestyle that is truly revolutionary. She brings the most practical expressions of love out into the light—things that might otherwise be considered mundane or insignificant—and shows the opportunity they hold to communicate the love of God to the people in our lives. Her words were such a gentle challenge—at once a cup of cold water and a bracing tonic. I’ve said this elsewhere, but the offering of this book to a weary and care-starved world is a gift of care in itself. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Reading this book and conducting this interview have both made me think deeply about the application of these things in my own life. I’ve been affirmed down to a soul level in things I’ve intuitively felt, but have received very little cultural validation in. And I’ve been challenged to remember the preciousness of the lives that so beautifully intersect with mine, and to keep thinking about how I can love them in creative, concrete ways. But I have also been reminded, in a very poignant way, of the manner in which I’ve been on the receiving end of all this practical love. I am really quite honestly overwhelmed at the ways the people in my life have communicated God’s love to me. They have literally been the hands and feet of Christ in the moments of my greatest need.

But their gifts have not only shone out in the darkness; they have crowned the happiest moments of my life, as well, the most radiant example of which was my wedding day. Philip and I celebrated our anniversary this past week, and with it always comes the yearly remembrance of the astonishing ways that our people loved us during that time.

Indeed, their gifts reached back well into the earliest days of our engagement. I think I’d had Philip’s ring on my finger for scarcely a week when we decided that we wanted to hold our reception at our soon-to-be home, the beloved old farmhouse which he had occupied up until then with a handful of roommates. To be sure, the roommates were scattering: one was going into the Reserves and one had started looking at houses almost as soon as Philip and I started dating. But they were leaving eight years of blameless bachelor living in their wake. The house was fine and sturdy, and had been generally well-cared for, but it was going to take an enormous effort to make it livable to my standards (as in not smelling like dirty socks and paring the collection of sofas and cast-off recliners down to an absolute minimum), much less prepare it for a wedding. The place needed a complete overhaul, from the tip of her highest gable to her boxwood-skirted porch. And we had less than five months in which to do it.

When the idea initially seized us, it seemed the most natural, the most beautiful thing in the world: to host all our friends on the first day of our life together in what was to be our home. It was like something out of a book, something our great-great grandparents might have done. As soon as we started assessing the situation, however, and making lists, I was completely overwhelmed—to the point that I started second-guessing our dreams. There just didn’t seem any possible way that we could pull it off.

And we couldn’t have. That’s where our people came in.

As soon as Philip’s parents heard of our hopes, they literally rolled up their sleeves and got to work. I think Philip’s dad almost lived here with him over those months, quietly going about the doing of things I wasn’t even experienced enough to have thought of. Philip’s mother threw her gifts into the reclaiming of a beautiful, well-established yard that had seen nearly a decade of neglect. And I can’t tell how many times I would come here after a long day, ready for a long night of work on some project or another, to find the kitchen—my one-day kitchen—absolutely redolent with the aroma of a home-cooked meal and my soon-to-be mother-in-law beaming at me as she drew a pot roast out of the oven. There is simply no telling how those happy little suppers around a formica-topped table fed my soul during that time, and gave me energy to tackle my to-do list with a strengthened heart.

My parents joined the effort, as well. There was hardly a Saturday that this old place was not abuzz with willing workers; the ring of hammers and power tools were the rule of the day. And my mother was incredible: in between managing my social schedule—which had suddenly erupted into a happy mêlée of parties and showers and dress fittings—and assuring herself that my trousseau met the requirements of a proper Southern girl, and basically trying to keep up with the visions of a very starry-eyed, albeit opinionated bride, she was at the house, pulling honeysuckle vines out of ancient crepe myrtles and weighing in on paint chips and helping me plant my flower garden. My Daddy took about 87 sofas to the Goodwill; my brother cut grass and cut bushes and trimmed up all our liriope-lined paths so that they would be in full, green lushness for our wedding day. Among about a thousand-and-one other things, Philip designed and built a rose trellis in the side yard, through which our guests would pass (and we would enter our reception) and a friend gave us established rose bushes from his garden so that they would have time to clamber up the latticed sides.

It was all so amazing that I really think I was unable to take it in at the time. I was overjoyed and deeply, deeply grateful. But it’s in retrospect that the lump rises in my throat and the wonder burns my eyes with tears. Friends helped us pull up carpet, helped us paint the rooms, helped us move furniture and hang pictures. In essence, they helped us make a home, which is one of the most beautiful things a person can do for another. It was like a long, drawn-out house-raising. And there, in the midst of it all, was my groom, working day and night to prepare a place, not just for our wedding, but for us. For me. Even in all that sweet tumult of work and waiting, the precious image incarnate in Philip’s labor was not lost on me.

At my trousseau tea (and, yes, I am telling you, there are still some Southern girls who have trousseau teas!) just days before the wedding, a sweet friend asked what I had left do to. I think she was expecting a litany of final fittings and bridesmaids’ gifts and packing for my honeymoon. But when I told her I was planning on making curtains for the bathroom, she was incredulous.

“No,” she said, with as firm a look as I believe her kind brown eyes were capable. “No, Lanier. You are a bride. This week that is all you need to be. I am making your curtains.”

She would not leave until the fabric was safely in her hands, and as I passed off all those yards of white muslin, I felt like a physical weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It was an act of pure love, and, as such, bore the fragrance of God’s love to me. She gave me the gift of hours in my bridal week, for which I was deeply grateful. There is hardly a morning I do not think of it, as I pull back those soft drapes on the eastern light of a new day.

Philip and I are still incredulous about what happened here the day before the wedding. I had always cherished a dream that the people I loved would all have a hand in my Day of days, would each have their fingerprint, as it were, upon this most unforgettable moment of my life. But I had no idea it would be like this—folks descended on this old place from the four corners of the compass. I remember wandering around in a complete daze, marveling at all the activity, my ever-present wedding notebook hanging idly at my side. One extremely talented soul had been named artistic director of the affair, and he had taken all my Avonlea-ish visions and translated them into living reality. That day he presided over a small army of women on our back porch, up to their elbows in roses and shell-pink zinnias and hydrangeas they had brought from their own gardens. Some were arranging flowers for the reception tables; others were fashioning exquisite little nosegays of old-fashioned perennials for the wire cones to be hung on the ends of the pews at the church. I have a mental snapshot of one of my bridesmaids on the patio amid a sea of daylilies and Queen Anne’s lace which another friend had gathered from her pasture that morning, and just beyond her, a small army of teenagers throwing out fresh pine straw in all the beds around the house. I went inside and found my sister twining thyme and Russian sage into a curving letter ‘I’ to top our wedding cake, and saw one of her friends hanging over the stair railing, grasping a can of Brasso in one hand and an arm of our rather age-patinaed chandelier in the other.

Midway through the day, my mother had a meal of fried chicken and vegetables brought in for everyone, with leftover cakes from my trousseau tea, and lots and lots of iced tea. And just about the time we were all indoors and lined up to make our plates—it started to rain. I couldn’t believe it! An outdoor wedding reception was the only thing we had accounted for—there was no Plan B. I stood at the den windows watching the downpour in disbelief. I knew there was much more to getting married than a perfect wedding day. But I had never so much as considered the fact that it might rain! The faithful crew at our house, however, was undeterred. Nothing daunted, they simply finished up their lunch and plunged into a new round of tasks, trudging around in the rain as if there was not a thing in the world to worry about. My sister and another friend soaked themselves weaving ivy garlands and hanging them on the front gate; many of the women did the same, festooning the reception tent with curtains of tulle and ribbons with rain running down their faces and arms.

It rained again the next morning—June can be such a fickle girl in Georgia! I’m very much afraid that by that point I was too far gone with the joy of what the day meant to really care about the weather. (My mother knew she had lost me and my opinions the day before when she had innocently asked what I would like to put the dried lavender in, which would be distributed to our guests to throw as Philip and I left the reception. “Oh, I don’t care,” I said, with a wave of my hand. I think that was her first moment of real panic surrounding my wedding. From there on out, she knew she had to go on without me. ;)) I remember sitting with my coffee on my wedding morning, looking out at the dripping day, asking my mother rather absently why it was raining.

“I’ll be right back,” she said.

I heard her bedroom door close, and in a few moments it opened again.

“Your Daddy said it was going to be allright,” she told me with a brave smile. I little knew then how brave.

Quite frankly, that was enough for me. I floated on through the morning in a bridal haze of utter preoccupation. My bridesmaids started arriving, tripping daintily up the front walk under umbrellas, and the beloved friend that had agreed to do my hair managed to set me down before a mirror and get to work. Another dear one, who also happened to be our wedding coordinator, stopped by on her way to the church and repacked my suitcase (which was a complete mess) and the florist dropped off my headpiece. The whole house was a happy beehive of feminine industry, and there I was, useless and cow-eyed in the midst of it all. My mother came in when I was dressed, just as my sister was lowering my diaphanous veil, and her radiant face did not bear the least trace of the anxieties she had known that day.

It wasn’t until I returned from my honeymoon that I learned what went on at my house the morning of the wedding. A friend had procured some emergency cabana tents, and he and my dad and brother set them up in the rain. My mother had her work cut out convincing the cateress (a Southern maven of the old school, who had literally come out of retirement to do my wedding) that moving the reception to another site was not an option. Seeking our ‘artistic director’ for moral support, she found him on a ladder by Philip’s trellis, calmly wiring wild rose canes and blossoms over the lattice. Looking down at her with rain pouring off the brow of his hat, he cheerfully concluded that there was nothing more to do but press on and pray hard. (He actually pressed on so hard that he missed the wedding. I remember catching a glimpse of him at the back of the church when we were having our pictures made, no less dapper for his late drenching, smiling with all of us over the joy of the breaking clouds outside and the summer sunshine that was pouring in through the tall windows.)

Yes, it did clear up. The good Lord heard that host of prayers and was kind enough to part the clouds on our account. On the way to the reception, Philip and I saw a double rainbow spanning over our way. It was like a kiss from God. And when we pulled up before the house—our house—my mother-in-law greeted us on the front walk with the dearest words in the world: “Welcome home!”

So many memories from that day seem to swirl in a cloud of tulle and sweet peas and blushing organza. It was everything I had ever dreamed it would be—from the children in smocked dresses chasing each other under the trees, to the lemonade on the front porch, to the hot tea served from a dear one’s family heirloom of a silver service—because people who loved me had made it so. And in the goodness of God we danced on the lawn that day with our wedding party and sealed the vision we shared for the kind of home we wanted to establish: one that would literally overflow with the very love that had launched us into our life together. That love laid a hallowing touch on the smallest details of our day, and demonstrated to us in an unforgettable way that, indeed,

Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
…through the features of men’s faces.

Photo credits: Frank Gibson