Published in 2011, I Let You Go is Clare Mackintosh’s debut novel. It is a contemporary mystery, exploring themes of physical trauma, emotional betrayal, deception, loss, and grief.
Following a tragic accident, Jenna Grey escapes Bristol, seeking solitude in the village of Penfach on the Welsh coast. She rents a small cottage in a rugged and remote location where she hopes for a quiet and uncomplicated life.
Due to an injury to her hand, Jenna is unable to pursue her interest in pottery. She instead turns to photography, capturing the beauty of the coastal scenes and the power of messages written in the sand.
Her new venture begins with a name, her name, inscribed in the sand. ‘Jennifer!’ It unlocks a hidden desire to reconnect with herself. She says,
‘I have a sudden urge to write my name in the sand, like a toddler on holiday, and I smile at my childishness. The driftwood is unwieldy and slippery, but I finish the letters and stand back to admire my handiwork. It seems strange to see my name so bold and unashamed. I’ve been invisible for so long, and what am I now?’
What struck Jenna about writing in the sand was its impermanence, for the incoming tide erases any evidence of human activity. But it also offers the promise of a fresh start. She says,
‘The beach is covered with writing of all sizes, like the scribbled ramblings of a madman, but I can already see the incoming tide licking at the letters, swirling the sand as it inches up the beach. By this evening, when the tide retreats once more, the beach will be clean, and I can start again.’
As Jenna’s reputation grew, she received requests for photographs of specific messages like ‘Forgive me, Alice’ which she framed in driftwood. She felt a flash of pride in her work and entertained the thought that perhaps she was not as useless as she once believed.
Jenna’s ‘peace’ is shattered when the Bristol police seek her out, linking her to an unsolved hit and run. She should have realised that the past is never erased and eventually catches up with you. She says,
‘I was stupid to think I could escape the past. However fast I run, however far: I will never outrun it.’
Jenna’s past has warped her understanding, telling her to regard any misfortune as a just reward for her failings as a person. She says,
‘In the dark of the police car, I let myself cry. Hot tears fall onto my clenched fists as the detective speaks to me, making little attempt to disguise the contempt in her voice. It is no less than I deserve, but even so it’s hard to take.’
There is more to Jenna’s story. It is both confronting and heartbreaking. Nonetheless, it is a story of redemption, a life put back together again. It needed people who were not fearful of the truth, who could empathise with her pain, and who could believe in a future full of promise.
Christmas is a season of joy, laughter, and celebration. It is an occasion to affirm what we value, what we believe, and for many that is family.
The coming of the baby Jesus at Christmas is also a story of redemption. It is about God seeking out a people to be his own, a people who will love Him, serve Him, and honour Him.
In writing to the believers in Corinth, the Apostle Paul emphasises three words central to life in God’s family. He says,
‘Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.’
1 Corinthians 13:13
The vitality of our life is dependent on the object of our faith. Many people place their faith in institutions – political, financial, medical, or educational – believing that they will deliver, ensuring positive outcomes and providing answers to complex issues. Sadly, institutions fail, proving inadequate in times of crisis. They are broken and inevitably lead to disappointment.
Further, if we do not attend to our faith, it can dry up altogether. Imagine a world without faith, a world of cynicism and selfishness, a world of anger and betrayal, a world of retribution and injustice, a world not unlike our own.
The Christmas story rejuvenates our faith, reminding us that the God of all creation is present and is committed to restoring all things, to making all things new. He invites us to have faith in Him.
Hope sustains our life, providing a reason to persevere. Even in times of hardship, struggle, and tragedy, hope refreshes our flagging spirit, inspires courage, and instils renewed purpose.
Hope is pivotal to our survival. Without hope we are lost. Without hope there is no life.
Abram Goldberg, born in 1924 in Lodz, Poland, is a holocaust survivor. He has recently documented his experiences in his book The Strength of Hope.
When the Germans invaded Poland the Goldberg family were consigned to the Lodz ghetto. These were desperate times, living in cramped quarters with little food and fuel. Life was about survival and tending to the flicker of hope. In the words of Abram’s father, ‘We must always believe we can overcome this.’
From the outset, Jenna’s marriage was destined to fail. Her abusive husband was controlling, manipulative, jealous, unpredictable, hurtful, and vindictive. He fenced her in, undermining her self-confidence, calling her to question her sanity. Anything that might have provided warmth and meaning was tolerated for a time and then taken from her.
It took a devastating tragedy to convince Jenna that she needed to break free, to start again, if that were even remotely possible, to hope that she could survive.
When Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt with their young child they too were looking to survive. Herod was determined to erase any possibility of a future Jewish king by killing all the baby boys two years old or younger. Their hope in God gave them certainty, and the courage to escape the impending danger.
Love is a word which has come to mean different things to different people. I have even seen a sign, ‘Love is Love.’ This is meant to enlighten us. But often such sentiments are confusing.
The fact remains, God is love. Everything God does is motivated by love. His love is not subject to change. It is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
The Christmas story reveals the nature of God’s love.
(1) God’s love is durable:
No matter what the prevailing circumstances, God’s love finds a home. Even a manger proved suitable for the son of God.
(2) God’s love is unfathomable:
There are aspects of God’s love that we will never fully comprehend in this life. Who can grasp what it took for the Lord of the universe to enter our broken world as a baby?
(3) God’s love is accessible:
No one is denied God’s love. Whatever our ethnicity, or gender, or age, we qualify. God’s love is freely available to all.
If Jesus were to write a message in the sand, what would it be?
If you are feeling uncomfortable with our tumultuous and troubled world, he says,
‘I love you’
Some people imagine God as being aloof, unconcerned with our daily struggles.
Some people criticise God for not doing more to stop wars, feed the hungry, and deal with injustice.
Some people have no time for God, believing that science is better able to explain why things are as they are.
Whatever the nature of our criticism, it is misplaced. The issues that concern the current generation are of our own making. Hatred, jealousy, greed, anger, bitterness, stem from within. They are the outworking of a self-centered mindset.
If only we could accept that God loves us and wants the best for us. If only we could accept that God cares about us deeply. If only we could accept that God is all-knowing. He has all the answers.
This is what the Christmas story is about – a new relationship, a new way of thinking, a fresh start.
‘I miss you’
We recognise at a human level that we are made for connection. We know how challenging it can be to be separated from our friends and loved ones, to be denied their love and support.
How much more are we impoverished by our distance from God. God delights in being included in every aspect of our life. He has a special interest in the minutiae, the little things, the small and insignificant events that shape our life. Don’t edit God out of your life.
‘I am coming soon’
At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of a baby, God’s son. Advent is the word we use to describe this season. It means coming, God breaking into history.
Historically, Advent has had a twin focus of both the Incarnation and the Second Coming. The First Coming was marked by obscurity, a baby in a humble manger. The Second Coming will be a global phenomenon, a king coming on the clouds.
Ignoring God, shunning his kindness and grace, will leave us unprepared for the coming of His kingdom in all its fullness.
What will you write in the sand this Christmas holiday season?
- Will you write something personal – a message of remembrance, a declaration of intent, a word to inspire?
- Or will you write something for a wider audience, for the stranger wandering aimlessly along the shore, kicking at the sand?