An Advent Moment Under the Texas Stars

The water sprinklers turned on just as I sat down on the bench near my patio. It was eleven o’clock at night. The sound of water spraying the ground was itself a relief from the oppressive Texas heat. The summer was unbearable that year. Temperatures did not go lower than 95 degrees during the night, and the humidity was so high that the air felt heavy and muggy throughout the season.

I stood under the sprinklers for a few seconds, just to soak in the moisture so I could endure the time I was outside. The mist of the water was very cooling and I began to clear away my daughters’ doll stroller and wagon. I would hate having to trip over them in the morning trying to get to my car on the way to work.

It was almost a comfort to be standing under the dark Texas sky away from the merciless sun that beat down from morning until sundown. It’s a good time to do some work in the yard for a while. When the water sprinklers stopped I sat back down on my uncomfortable wooden bench.

My children were peacefully asleep inside. None of them had any idea how their lives had changed. How were they going to handle this? About ten hours before I found out that my married life was over. Since that moment, I felt like death swallowed me alive. I was ready to escape the confines of my house and find refuge in my yard so I could see the sky. It has always been a comforting thing to do.

Gazing at the stars took my mind off my situation for a while. There is a lot of imagination to be had when looking up rather than down. As usual, I looked for the brightest star in the night sky. A person can even see color if he looks at them long enough. I found one right next to the moon. And it was a full moon too. Sigh… At least the moon’s light is only a reflection, so it is a lot softer than the full blaze of the summer sun. Its light reminds me of a candle light. Soft and steady, it brings a gentleness into the darkness. I needed a dose of that kind of light at the moment.

The night has different sounds, too. Here in Texas we have chirping crickets. It’s a real concert at night with the nightingale singing along with the crickets, and the mosquito making its buzzing interruption. It’s a different world sitting out under the stars. There is something comforting about the night; something that brings us to a place of rest. We always know that the morning will come; no matter what.

There are still times when I am afraid of the night. There are shadows and creepy noises. Then there are those moments where we are seized with such a purpose that we fear nothing. I remember as a 6-year-old, I wanted to see Kristkindl at night during the Christmas season. When I woke in the night my room was very dark. Normally I would feel afraid, but not that night. I felt my way to the closet to put on my shoes. I opened the door to our patio and stood outside in my nightgown under a starry night and waited. It was freezing cold but I intensely looked up just to see if I could catch a glimpse of Kristkindl.

I really wasn’t sure what I was looking for. I just knew it must be a young Angel-girl with wings flying through the sky to bring the Christmas gifts to all the little children. I probably would have stayed out there all night if I hadn’t started getting very cold. Shivering and a little disappointed I made my way back to bed. One thing I do remember is I saw a lot of stars and it was very pretty.

As a 9-year-old in Germany, one of my best friends was a boy named Peter. He and I had great talks together looking into the heavens at night. He was my fourth grade teacher’s oldest son, and played the trumpet in the band. He was about three years older than me. I played the clarinet in band and that’s how we became friends. After band practice, which we held in the old corner guesthouse on the upper floor, we took the long way home through the village and up to the hill where I lived.

During the fall and winter months, it was already dark outside by the time practice was over. Halfway up the hill to my home we would stop at Frau Jahna’s garden wall, sit down and look up. I remember there was always a chill in the air, but we were not at all fazed by it. He was the one who told me that the light we see twinkling in the night sky could be from a star that is already extinguished, and the light that comes from earth and travels to a star may be the light of Roman times, depending from what time the light was from.

Ah, it was all so fascinating. Once I jokingly tried to convince him that there really was a face in the moon by pointing the facial features out to him, but I couldn’t convince him. And so we headed home, bidding each other goodbye and going our separate ways once we reached my house. Each time we walked home we continued to wonder about what was happening up there in the sky. Those were my first experiences with someone else where we explored thoughts together and still remained in wonderment of never quite knowing. It kept my interest open to hear more.

The night can reveal more good things. As teenagers, my brother had a room next door to mine down in the basement. We were the oldest and had our own rooms. One night he came to my room while I had Uriah Heep playing on the record player. It was already very late and I was being a carefree teenager. The only light in the room was from a single burning candle. He sat down on my bed and we started talking about music. Then our conversation turned to the typical worries of teenagers. We talked about our current crushes and school.

Somewhere along the way, we seemed to actually have discovered each other as two individuals. I didn’t just see my brother but also saw him as a human being with his own struggles and cares in life. That night we became inseparable. To this day we can still share our deepest secrets with one another. We can accept each other without conditions. Being listened to, and recognized that we were heard, is a good gift to give to one another. We didn’t have to pretend anymore. It was a weight off our shoulders.

Back under the Texas sky, a breeze rustled through the big Oak tree. Ah, it felt good. I sat in silence gazing up into the heavens again. Is my fate determined by the stars, or is the place I find myself to be an Advent that will usher in a new life? Has there ever been complete darkness on earth? There’s has always been a flicker of light somewhere within our darkest moments that we want to grasp and hold on to. And sometimes it’s the only thing we have left — a flicker.

I did not really know it then. It was the rhythmic pounding of my heart within my chest that kept me alive. It let me know that there’s still life in there. Its pounding was a muffled but desperate beat in my ears. Wasn’t there a life that gives light to everyone? "The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it" (John 1:5). Wasn’t there a story that said "…don’t be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy for everyone…" (Luke 2:10)?

I thought of my children. I knew they needed and relied on me. They needed a mother whose head is together, but I also knew it would take time. I thought of Mary who heard the stories the shepherds told to everyone — The Good News — and how she quietly treasured these things in her heart and thought about them often (Luke 2:19). Can I find my strength there? Is that where I can find something to hold onto, and so our lives can move forward? Didn’t my mother and grandmother light the four candles on the Advent wreath every Sunday before Christmas exactly for that reason?

Stories actually take on a meaning when we realize we are in a story. Before that they can just be words; pointless words. Quoted words out of a book. But when the stories in the book become real in the lives of people, we’re in the Word. And on that humid night in Texas, I found my hold in the Word. It was an early Christmas present that wasn’t wrapped in a box with a pretty bow. It looked more like shambles, with pieces lying before me as I sat in my yard under the tree. Someone cared enough to value those pieces, to turn them into a new life again. There’s sweetness in life, too, even when it’s dark. Does not the sweet smell of the honeysuckle linger during the night? It’s that kind of life which conquers the bitterest death. It’s the kind of life that flickers in the dark night of the soul.

The drumbeat of my heart settled down to a calmer rhythm. I could not see any angels in the heavens, or a star guiding the way. There were no shepherds announcing the news of the Savior being born. But I heard the call, like trumpets sounding in my heart. I got up from my bench and headed for the back door. I took one last look at the stars and there I determined that I would follow the Shepherd’s call. I opened the door and entered my new life.