It’s no secret, this is my favorite time of year. Everything about October through December fills me with joy. The autumn leaves, the pumpkin spices, the snack-size candies, my football-coaching husband climbing to the press box with clipboard and khakis.

I don’t know what I love most. (Well my husband, obviously.) But the softer, cooler weather is pretty sexy too. The fog settling like cashmere over tree limbs at sunrise. The sky sparkling like jewels in the heavens at sunset. The porches peppered in mums of russet, paprika, persimmon and plum. The woodsmoke perfuming the air.

And then, there’s all the seasonal fashions and accessories that emerge: chunky sweaters, glittering helmets, plastic jack-o-lantern totes. From stadium to city sidewalk, to hearth and home, earth and sky… all bursting to celebrate the gatherings of fall.

But this year things are so different. So full of cautions and fears.

Football stadiums are limiting fans. Trick or treat is banned in some places. Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations are enough to give this mama of extended family traveling from multiple states a panic attack.

Y’all. I love trick-or-treat tykes. And turkey and pecan pie. And stockings hung by the fireside with care. And twinkle lights and Christmas ornaments. (God, how I love a decked-out evergreen.) But most of all, I love all the cheesy customs of a crowded living room full of family singing carols and sipping cocoa and making memories to last a lifetime.

But I worry so much about my mid-to-late seventies parents joining my thirty-something girls and our first-grade boys and and my high-school-teaching self and football-coaching husband. I worry about how much their risk of contracting a potentially-deadly virus could exponentially increase if we all get together. I worry about losing time with them if we spend time with them during the holidays.

But then, I know the value of those memories, the necessity of connection, the loneliness of isolation, need for family love. Their fear of missing out on valuable time with their grandkids vs my fear of my kids missing out on valuable years with their grandparents.

Which is more beneficial? Which is less? The weight of weighing this cost/benefit analysis is unbearable.

We all feel so burdened. All of us. We’ve spent seven full months carrying this pandemic weight. None of us has gone unscathed, although some of us have suffered far more than others.

Surely this final trimester will bring this baby full term. Surely we will leave Hell behind and find a bright, shiny, newborn New Year in its place come January. I know it’s not a rational thought — but it is a deeply-rooted one, full of hope and desire and fueled with prayer.

In the meanwhile, I desperately want to see those I love most in the world during this season I love most in the world. So we will be as responsible as humanly possible. We will be social — at a social distance. We will wear our masks, and sing our songs six feet apart, and sip our alcohol while we use our alcohol wipes.

Our lives are short enough as it is. And God told us to be good stewards of them. So as for me and mine, we will balance family and safety in this season the best way we know how. We will make carefully-measured memories with the carefully-measured time God has given us. We will be good stewards as we gather together.

Happy Gathering Season, y’all. Be cotton-headed, but not a Ninny Muggins. Wear a Mask.