Driving through Vermont with family the other night, we played a game in the car called “Rate the Lights.”
It was simple game, invented by The Princess and her hubs, wherein you ascribe a 1-10 value to the Christmas displays that have nudged Thanksgiving aside these past few days.
My nephew loves flash, so houses bedecked with what other – lets-just-say more discerning – voters might consider gaudy he would rate a “10,” while my brother would give high marks for creativity – an old plow wrapped in white strands, a peace sign made from colored bulbs hung on a barn (he lives, after all, in Vermont).
For me, it was all about simplicity.
In each of the front yards of my family’s past three homes grew a single spruce, and the sum total of my outdoor decorating consisted of hanging this lone tree with a few strands of large bulbs that once belonged to my mother.
I used to love plugging them in late in the afternoon, the light waning, before heading out for errands. Nothing pleased me more than rounding the corner on the way home in in the now-dark and seeing that honest beacon welcoming me back.
Whether I was carrying car-seated infants, groceries, or hockey bags, I knew as I walked by those lovely lights I would be opening the front door to family.
I’m back at school after a long-ish Thanksgiving break; my family, too, have dispersed to their various commitments, so it was good day to climb Cardigan again.
Driving up the access road, I watched the temperature gauge on my dash drop until it settled to a brisk 27 degrees at the trailhead lot.
The trail itself was coated in white, and many were abandoning the endeavor half-way up, as recent run-off had frozen solid, making the way more like a luge than a path.
I was happy I brought along my grippy microspikes.
Slipping them on over my trail runners, I was able to navigate the tricky places until I found myself alone on top being blasted back and forth by powerful gusts that had scoured the summit clean.
Off to the south, sunlight fell like rain through the clouds.
Icy puddles spooned in granite depressions.
Myriad blues shape-shifted behind the clouds, a palette crafted by a perfect Painter.
Much ado is often made about joy during the Christmas season, and rightly so.
Immanuel means Godwithus. Love put on flesh, broke bread with us, washed our feet, and revealed the Father. Died so we might live.
For some, however, this long stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can carry with it the baggage of loss. Even in the most functional of families, children grow up. Marry. Move away.
The family that now lives in my last house cut down my spruce tree; naught but a specter remains of what-was.
I think that sometimes in this season it might be easy to get carried away with the flash – to equate sparkle and glam with meaning and magnitude.
Events in past years have had the effect of recalibrating my capacity for joy. It is no longer dependent on circumstance or proportionate to expectation.
Clinging to the Cardigan fire tower today, gazing out at a beauty so profound and pure, I was thankful for the way that God has fathered me through.
His is a simple equation.
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12)
Wonder = joy.