Enter Hope. Bring whatever you carry.

Thirty-six square feet. Nestled near our clothesline cross, under a towering maple, my tiny backyard retreat stands tall in the snow; a startling slash of crimson on an unblemished canvas. A tangible, colossal exclamation mark.

The odd building with the duncecap roof and the screened lift-up sides sits just a few steps from the back door. I enjoy the sight of it year round, but only use it in fair-weather seasons; throughout the summer and on the fringes of spring and fall.

I’ve painted the timbers white and furnished it with flowers in coloured bottles, inspirational signs, cute hat pegs for the straw hats the granddaughters love. Even a small bistro set. All I need for a place of peace. Even a pest strip, strategically hung by the Preacher out of my sightline, so I can write, think and pray without the bother of bugs, dead or alive.

I didn’t use the cottage much last summer. After its annual spring opening, a flurry of cleaning and washing and setting out the traditional decorations by my two middle ladybeans (wearing straw, playing ladies of the manor), the good-weather season slid too soon past. Spring proved cold. Then came long winds that meddled with the screens, before summer galloped off without a backward glance.  

Its season will come round again. But if not, I have its memories. Guests and grandbeans love to visit in the rustic cacoon. Sisters and friends, even the Preacher, in summer’s heat, sit awhile behind the screens, enjoying that view of the backyard. And when my sis-in-law travelled West last summer, we took a morning to paint there. Her first painting. I can still hear her laughter; see her sparkling eyes. It’s hanging on the bedroom wall now, she says.

A small sculpture sits on the ledge outside the largest window. A single word. HOPE. The word also perches on an inside shelf. I need that word. I love that word for its connection to my faith.

Christian hope, rather than mere crossing one’s fingers and wishing, stands tall and solid, like my red cottage. Against a stark and cold landscape of sorrow and death and ceaseless longing for meaning, the hope Christ brings is the colossal red exclamation mark most people ignore. Yet because of Jesus, we can put our absolute trust in every promise of God, knowing that in his time, everything God promises will add up to YES.

We sit in the middle of the first week of Advent; the period leading up to the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Hope week. I, like the rest of our world, need the reminder to keep hope. Not to just visit it occasionally, like my red cottage (a mere pleasant pause in pleasant times, with pleasant guests). But to inhabit it daily. To compel others into its rest. Into the certainty that, come what may, Christian hope offers permanent shelter, because only that babe born in a manger paves the way to peace with God and eternal joy.

Enter hope. Bring whatever you carry.