“They Come in Droves”

Eight years ago, when Dave and I first moved into our circa 1890s house in Colorado Springs, the neighbors warned us about Halloween.

Apparently, our Victorian-era neighborhood was a big trick-or-treating destination. And we could see why. With its spook-ready architecture, enormous trees (lots of fall leaves to kick through), old-fashioned lamp posts, and light traffic on wide streets, our part of town is pretty much goblin heaven.

“They come in droves,” one neighbor told us.

We should have asked her to define “droves.” We figured it probably meant dozens, and prepared accordingly. But before that first Halloween night was over, Dave had made three emergency runs to Safeway for more candy. Apparently, droves means h-u-n-d-r-e-d-s.

I had never seen so many trick-or-treaters in my life, and such original costumes! The Energizer Bunny with his drum, the ghost of Raggedy Ann, a jumbo box of Crayola crayons, bee babies, angels, pirates…they all charged our door that night, buckets and bags in hand, in a line that stretched out to the sidewalk.

At moments, it felt like mayhem. And yet, when things finally settled down at around 9—it was a school night, after all—I was sad to see it end.

The next morning, out for a walk with Edmund, we saw signs of Halloween-past everywhere. A pirate’s scarf stuck on our fence post. A Kit Kat on the walkway. “When I went to the gym earlier,” Dave said, “I saw glittering angel wings blowing down the street.”

I imagined an angel from the night before—now waking up, just a little girl again. I wondered how she lost her wings, and if her parents promised to make her new ones for next year.

Later that day, I came upon the familiar verse in Hebrews that invites us to, “Come boldly to the throne of grace so we can find help in our time of need.” I had always loved that passage, but now the word “boldly” struck me as a stretch. Did God really want me to approach him with that kind of audacity? Like I expect something good—even now?

You see, this was also my first year in recovery. And just two weeks before Halloween, I had suffered a relapse —gotten angry at Dave and drank at him. Lately, I was more inclined to approach God like Edmund approaches me after he’s gotten into the garbage again—skulking, ears back with guilt.

Then I remembered all those kids from the night before. How confidently they had come tromping up to our door. None of them came because they thought they deserved our candy. They came because they knew we wanted them to come, hoped they’d come.

Surely, that’s how it is with God, too, I decided. God doesn’t care how spectacularly we’ve failed, or how recently we’ve lost our wings.

I don’t know what Halloween looks like where you live. But I hope it involves lots of excited kids. And I hope they remind you to storm God’s door, breathless with a good kind of greed for a grace more generous than you could possibly deserve.

P.S. If you’re in the neighborhood tonight, stop by for a bowl of soup, to sit by the fire, or—if you dare—take your turn on the porch with the candy. Last year, we counted a thousand kids…and every single one got a treat!

P.S.S. This post was oringaly published two years ago.

Stale Cookies and The End of the World

Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia: Her cookies are stale and she’s pissed.

Christmas has gone stale already. Isn’t it amazing how fast that happens?

Relatives go away. You take back the bath robe your husband gave you so you can buy the one you bought for your sister (I have a problem with buying gifts for people based on my own lusts). You declare the leftovers—including the congealed gravy and the mashed potatoes that taste like refrigerator—no longer worth saving.

You hear your husband say something like, “You know Christmas needs to be over when you’ve eaten your way through all the cookies you like, and now you’re eating the ones you don’t—even though they’re stale.”

Yep. I knew exactly which cookies he was talking about. So I hereby declare Christmas over. And good riddance is what I’d normally think.

But this morning I find myself a little reluctant to let Christmas go, worried that I missed it somehow. I find myself searching for some new, fresh meaning or spiritual inspiration to carry me forward. Something beyond the whole baby-in-the-hay thing, which feels so three days ago.

Two things come to mind. And wouldn’t you know it, the first is a leftover from Christmas Eve and involves the baby in the hay. I think of the candlelight service at my mother’s church and standing next to Dave and singing, Away in a Manger. And how one stanza struck me so hard that you’d think I’d never heard it before: “Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay/ close by me forever and love me I pray.”

Such a simple, honest request, and so true to what my heart is saying this morning, and so much about what Christmas makes possible every day.

The second thing on my mind is the echo of a line from the amazing movie, Melancholia. (Boy, I’m really giving it away this week that Dave and I love movies.) To say it’s a movie about waiting for the end of the world is not to give anything away. At one point, the bipolar character played brilliantly by Kristen Dunst encourages her terrified sister with words along the lines of, “I know things. You know I do. And I know that we’re alone. We. Are. Alone.” She means on the planet. She means without God. She means that the end of the world really will be the end of us all.

I think this line stuck with me because it is so opposite of what I believe, what I feel like I know deep in my own slightly bipolar bones, which is that the Christmas story—Emmanuel, God is with us—is true. We. Are. Not. Alone.

And this nearness that we beg for and can’t get enough of and couch in Christmas carols never goes stale. Instead, it gets more real and more new as you go along. And nothing–not crashing planets, not too many cookies, not any kind of foolish craving—can make Him not stay near. 

And love me, I pray.