I know that for many of you Christmas has been over for a solid month, but for me, Christmas did not end until the last weekend of January.
Due to a new position at my brother-in-law’s workplace, my sister and her family were not able to make the 872 mile drive from their home in North Carolina to Michigan in time for Christmas this year. We all agreed that we would wait as long as necessary to celebrate the season if that’s what it took for us to be together.
“We’ll leave up the decorations until July if we need to,” I assured my sister. “Just. Get. Here!”
Finally, they made it, and for a full week we each drank deep from the glass of Christmas, be it ever so late, and family.
When they packed up their van and rolled out of our driveway, headed home to the sunny south, my heart began to ache. I don’t know when I’ll see them again, and this unwanted question mark made saying goodbye especially hard.
Later, as my daughter and I sat at the kitchen table eating lunch, the quiet of the house consumed us. There we sat with room to spare, when just hours before, the table and the house had been full.
“Mommy,” said Aletheia. “I’m sad. I miss my cousins.”
“I miss them too.”
At three years of age, I know it’s hard for Alethiea to understand why she can’t see her cousins more often. I know how my heart felt in that moment and I could tell that hers felt the same way. How could I help her understand and sort through the hard feelings that come with saying goodbye?
“Aletheia?” I asked. “Do you know why you feel the way you do? Do you know why you miss your cousins?”
Her blue eyes, sad, spoke the words her mind couldn’t muster.
“The reason you feel sad is because you have five big holes inside your heart. One in the shape of Madeline. One in the shape of Conner, and one in the shape of Garrett, Aunt Melanie, and Uncle Landon too.”
“Yes,” she said with her tiny voice.
“And, do you know what else? I bet that Madeline, Conner, Garrett, Aunt Melanie, and Uncle Landon have some holes in their hearts too, except theirs are in the shape of Aletheia and Tenley.”
Aletheia nodded and we went back to our lunch, to our getting back to normal.
As my girls took their afternoon naps, I retreated to my room in search of my own sense of comfort for the holes that ached inside.
It’s a feeling I’m sure we can all relate to. At the end of something great, on the tail of goodbye, the sinking feeling of empty that is left in the wake of what I like to call days of heaven upon the earth. In time the ache goes away, but what to do with those moments when reality crashes hard?
Stretched across my bed, I pulled out my phone and opened my email. A week’s worth of blog posts from Ann Voskamp and her website www.aholyexperience.com filed in a row; Evidence of a week too full of fun and family to stay on top of the everyday details that usually capture my attention.
I’ve written before, of my love for Ann Voskamp’s writings and the way they have helped me in the past. I don’t mean to sound redundant, but once again, God navigated me to the right post at the right time and spoke to the holes inside my heart.
How can I fill the holes, the blanks left by a week that felt so much like His Kingdom, right here on earth?
The answer, I found, was simple: Fill the holes with Thanksgiving.
By remembering the moments that made the week great and the goodbyes hard, the holes can be filled with thank yous for God, the orchestrator and giver of each precious gift…
Madeline’s freckled nose and “little mommy” ways
Conner’s boyish laughter
Watching Twilight with my sister
Landon playing in the snow with Aletheia
Mom’s Christmas dinner
Dad, asleep in his chair, while the grandkids romp wild
Tenley learning to say “Coco” the name of our family’s furriest member
Living-room ransacked with toys
Late nights and early mornings
Snow falling peaceful, the feel of “Christmas Morning”
This is how my list began, how I started to fill in the blanks. As tears of remembrance slid down my cheeks, the family shaped holes in my heart were filled with thanksgiving; Thanksgiving for God’s goodness and the comfort of His love.