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Deer in the Headlights

Deer in the Headlights

I was driving home after running errands in the harsh light of a box store — busy and loud — during the Christmas season. Dusk was upon the earth — that darkness that comes on gradually, the settling of night I’ve come to love, the ending of a day, after the sun sets behind the mountains and darkness falls, stars revealed, holy.

As I drove down the road we live on, I saw ten deer grazing in the field and a minivan parked on the side of the road, a woman leaning her head to the right to watch the deer as they grazed. Under the glow of her headlights, the frost looked like crystallized sugar, the deer looking as if they’d wandered into a magical, holy land. I could see her face — just a quick sighting of it — from the glow of the car light’s, but I caught her expression: the child-like awe in her middle-aged face, the joy, the delight at the sight of something ordinary — deer in a field in Central Pennsylvania in early December. I actually wanted to talk to her, but I didn’t want to scare her. But in the action of watching the deer — her stare — I knew she was nurturing holy by paying attention; I saw everywhere holy on her face.

Holiness was on her face as I imagine it was that night the angel appeared to the shepherd with his flock. And the buck, who stood and watched her, the buck with the eight-point spread who somehow had made it through the first weeks of hunting season, well, he was holy too.

Earlier, I had been checking things off of my early Christmas list, the shuffle for deals on presents, the chaos of the lines and people hustling to prepare for their own ideas of Christmas, me rushing around for mine, forgetting the kneeling in the church, worried if the people on my list would like the gifts I had written on it for them. I had momentarily forgotten about the gifts of the season, beyond the ones I could ever buy in the store. The anxiety I cart with me flared in my chest as I pushed the literal cart, empty, the redness of it taunting me because I had been wandering too long with no progress, the anxiety quickening like fire sparked hot, suffocating, warming in the worst way. My hands started to sweat under the harsh lights. I’d left the store, feeling like I couldn’t breathe, locking myself in the car, the cold a relief. I drove straight home, tears welling in my eyes from the ridiculousness of me not being able to finish the simple task of Christmas shopping, only to see the woman admiring the deer, all holy, sacred, the deer standing on their own holy ground, regal and sure, unlike me.

And I was reminded: this season is more than the presents I can find in the store or the self-deprecation that follows when I can’t finish that task or any other.

Christmas is about the birth of Someone who is greater than it all.

We wait and prepare for Christmas but we forget that it is much more than the arrival of presents under a twinkling tree, as beautiful as that is. Even the Advent wreath we keep on my own table by the fireplace in the breakfast nook is sometimes forgotten, unlit, the symbols of hope, peace, joy, and love all set aside in the chaotic shuffle the season brings: Christmas programs and patent leather shoes, boxes wrapped just so with glittery bows, but no one stopping to see the holiness in one another’s faces through it all because the busy consumes us like flame, flickering, and we forget to see, to shift our focus from the preparations for the holiday to the preparations of self, to the realization that while there’s a ceremonial waiting for Jesus’s birth, He’s right here, right now, all the time.He’s everywhere. Christmas is our tangible reminder but only if we allow it to be.

I pulled over and sat and watched the deer myself from the other side of the road, before the woman in the minivan pulled away seconds later, going in the opposite direction I was. To the box store? To her own list? I’m sure she was on her way to something, as we all always are. As for me, I watched them in the field for a minute more, hardly able to be seen now that she’d left, before I went home to my own home on the hill around the bend. I stood in my driveway and looked up, stars in the almost indigo sky now, blazing, just like the night Gabriel appeared? Anxiety alleviated from the reminder — brief but not fleeting — that holiness is everywhere.

I remind myself of this daily; I need constant reminders. Yes, I had pulled away from the deer but not from the lesson of the season for me: the wait is important, the preparation is essential, but in the end, we all already have what we crave — the Baby was born! — if we only open our eyes to the holiness all around, the everywhere holy right before us.

Written for Devotionals Daily by Kara Lawler, author of Everywhere Holy.

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