Shards of papery board litter the floor I walk on. Plastery crumbs crunch under my feet while small clouds of chalky dust rise at each step. The December breeze blows through the window frames still awaiting their shining panes of glass and I shiver in cold and delight as I look at our smooth, snowy, brand new walls. This may not be your average white Christmas. But after a particularly wintry year, it’s one of the happiest I’ve known.
A few days ago, however, I was not this happy. I was all kinds of discouraged and depressed and convinced deep inside myself that this important step towards completing our long-awaited home would never come. My life, you must understand, was doomed to be one weary, interminable ‘work until you drop’ cycle with very little to show for it. I’ll be honest with you, I’ve been having a hard time facing each day.
But this morning I woke up long before the sun- expectant, excited, nervous- although still trying to wrap myself in that self-protective cushion that would prepare me for any dashed hopes or further delays.
This morning there was none of the usual grunting at the children to leave me and my caffeine fix in peace and get themselves a bowl of cereal- I had a broad smile with a side of sizzling sausage and eggs waiting for them when they woke up. The coffee was hot for daddy, the baby changed and dressed before she had a chance to complain, the blankets folded, the pillows and beds stowed away. I felt like my old self again- that self that decided to move us to this place nine months ago- full of optimism and energy and hope- that self who was so confidently sure that life in a trailer would never get her down.
Still I was cautious in my optimism. Only a fool wouldn’t be. But lo and behold, the work crew arrived exactly when they said they would. Not only that but they started in right away- no forgotten tools or last second runs to the hardware store.
Then I watched, breathless, as the first heavy board was lifted overhead and the first screws went in to hold it in place. I may or may not have wept a little. Then I may or may not have danced a little jig and the workers may or may not have thought me crazy.
I have been sneaking up to the house all morning, in between school lessons, just to see how much they have gotten done. Man, those guys work fast! Then back to the trailer, dancing another little jig. The boys may or may not have thought me crazy.
But throughout all my joy, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt- a shadow of shame, knowing (as I very well did) that the only reason I was so happy is because things are finally going right, at least for today. Today was a good day. But alas, I have failed myself and my family over and over again on this journey as I have let the bad days negatively dictate how I have interacted with my husband, my kiddos and with the God who has written this story for us. I have been weak, I have lost faith, I have listened to the Tempter who told me to despair.
In the window of the trailer hangs a snippet of a Bible verse. It simply reads ‘Rejoice in it.’ The words catch my eye each time I head out the door and it is astonishing to me how many different ways I have reacted to this simple imperative.
Sometimes it does the job I wanted it to do when I first hung it up so many months back. It serves as a reminder that this day (good or bad) is the day that the Lord has made- so please, my dear, act in accordance with that fact.
Sometimes it prompts a guilty and grudging obedience and helps me to put on a plastic smile in the face of adversity.
Sometimes I have a little argument in my head with that snippet which usually consists in listing every excuse I have, to show how and why I should be exempt from such a command. After all, my life is legitimately difficult right now.
But more often than not, I feel fear when confronted with those words. Yes, fear. I am afraid to rejoice because perhaps, if I allow myself to be glad about the fact that I live in a trailer with seven people while I stare at that stubbornly incomplete house, God will look down and say,
“Oh look, she has finally learned her lesson of contentment. She has finally understood what it means to be joyful in all circumstances. I think I will just leave her there. Why mess with a good thing?”
This fear makes me want to cling to my melancholy as a kind of insurance that we will get out of this situation some day.
Of course, in my more rational moments I know that this is nonsense. I know that God wants us to strive for better things and I know that he doesn’t want us to sit on our hands and accept that this life is always going to be hard, so why try?
I also know, in my better moments, that it is not the actual circumstances we are to rejoice over as if God is pleased when we laugh lightheartedly at the grief and pain and struggle in our own lives and at the world at large.
We don’t rejoice because of the mere physical day (good or bad) but because of the Lord who made it. We don’t rejoice merely because of the sheetrock we can finally see, although it is a wondrous sight, but because of the Lord (and his people) who gave it.
And we don’t rejoice at Christmas, merely because of the snow (if you are so lucky) and the lights and the music and presents. These things are just a bonus from a bountiful God. We rejoice because now we can say, every single day, in every single circumstance, that Emmanuel has come to be with us.
Oh Come, thou dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by thy drawing nigh.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!