This Christmas we rented a friend’s house beside a lake at the top of a mountain. “We” are various members of my wife’s family. Some of us will be here three nights in all, others two, others one. Some came yesterday just for the day. Others are with us only in spirit.

We are doing the things families do at Christmas. Eating well. Going for walks. Playing games. Making music. On Christmas Adam (the day before Christmas Eve) my daughter and one of my nieces cooked a meal so wonderful it moved someone to ask, “What’s the best meal you remember?” and we spent the next hour, around the table, talking about pizza in Italy and blueberry pie in Maine and the people we were with on a certain night, in a certain restaurant, in a certain city.

Last night, after another feast, we played Dictionary, a game this family has been playing for longer than the 32 years I’ve been part of it. One person picks a word from the dictionary, writes the real definition on a slip of paper, and collects fabricated definitions from everyone else before reading them all out loud. If you guess the correct definition, you get a point. If someone else guesses your made-up definition, you also get a point. But the point of this game is not points. The point is laughter. And there is abundant laughter in a world where “rusticate” means “to fornicate in the country” and “rodomontade” is “what wise people make when life gives them rodomonts.”

This morning five of us sang “My Girl” at sunrise on the porch. (That’s a story you can read on my sister-in-law Michelle’s blog.) Four of us ran the Hilly Hellacious Holyday Hanny in Dupont Forest. We lingered over breakfast casserole and fruit salad till almost noon. And people are playing cards in the living room right this minute.

We are also grieving. We lost Jeanine’s brother Marshall this summer. I have not had words or heart to write about it, and I still don’t, really. All I can say right now is that it shattered us, we miss him, and he is still with us.

No one said any of this aloud. No one needed to. Our togetherness – and when we needed it, our separateness – said it plenty well.

When I awoke this morning, the first words in my mind were these: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” This is a verse from the Gospel of John, and it has always been one of my favorites. It acknowledges the agony and ache of darkness, twice, but it also affirms the unceasing, unfailing power of light.

We’re here by the lake because none of us wanted to do this first Christmas without him in any place that felt familiar. But we’re laughing and singing and remembering feasts gone by because the light keeps finding us.

I hope it is finding you, too.

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