Light in the darkness

It’s five a.m., and I’m wide awake. Again. Was it a dream that woke me or the Christmas lights shining in my window? Usually I can squeeze one more sleep cycle in before rising for the day. In fact, I haven’t consistently or voluntarily been up this early since high school, when my morning toilette of heavy makeup and my curling-ironed coiffure took an hour and a half (two other things I haven’t done since high school). Am I entering middle age? What is it that’s changed?

Whatever the reason, I’ve been waking up between four and six a.m. for weeks now.

And I love it. 

After lying in bed as long as I can stand it, I slide my feet into my slippers and tiptoe to my kids’ bedroom doors, closing them silently before heading downstairs. The espresso machine is loud, and I need my morning Americano, but I also don’t want to wake them. I grab matches and light the spruce-scented mercury glass candles on the kitchen island and the coffee table, the glow of the Christmas tree lighting my way. I make espresso by candlelight and memory, then take it to sip and sit in the living room in the semi-darkness. 

The candle flames project aurora borealis onto the ceiling. It dances with movement, but I am still. 

And quiet. 

My eyes linger on the tree. The big colored lights remind me of my childhood, which is both sweet and painful. The ornaments are newer, each one representing some interest or hobby in the lives of my husband, my children, and myself—an Eiffel Tower from our anniversary trip to Paris four years ago; a stand mixer for my daughter’s new baking obsession; a rocket ship for my son. We choose a new one every year, and each year, as we unwrap the novelty glass shapes and hang them on the tree, we remember and laugh together. The old ornaments have memories attached to them, too, the ones from when I was a kid. I left them in the bin this year. 

I sit here as long as possible, thinking, praying, breathing in peace and deep joy mixed with the annual dose of grief. 

The light is so beautiful, contrasted with the darkness.

RACHEL WOMELSDUFF GOUGH and her family ditched the city for a patch of earth in the Snoqualmie Valley. She seeks to foster shalom in her neighborhood by rooting deeply, connecting people, and practicing hospitality. She is a Master of Divinity student at Fuller Theological Seminary, and she can’t live without books, coffee, and mountains.

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