My family is tiny. There is me and my two sons, one woman and two boys who, together, make up the known parts of me. Our shared genes and gathered years make us one. I love them. They love me back. I am blessed.
Still, the holidays sit heavy on my heart. The togetherness of robust families full of siblings and generational lines points to our lack. How could it not? Happy holiday gatherings spill from every nook and cranny of our lives, glare dominantly from TV and social media and even by way of a simple walk down the street and I feel sad for my boys. I feel loneliness for me. There is only we three. I wish I’d provided more.
It stings, this season glaring with reminders of what so many have, what others have not.
I paint a smile and feign my happiest ho-ho-hos, but it’s a shallow and half-hearted thing, merely a going through the motions for others’ sake, a way to be proper in the moment. I hide my lack so as not to taint their plenty.
“Do they recognize their blessing of abundance?”
Inside me, there’s this heavy hallow place, a deep and piercing ache for the well-knit bonds I see all around me.
Family is something built up over time, generations of knowing and being known. It’s too late for me and I’ve accepted that, grown accustomed to it. I know this way. This is what’s familiar. Still, the contrast of lack and plenty bring me pause. A tinge of grief.
Bells and carols chime, people laugh loudly yet snow comes down soft as a whisper.
It’s Christmas Eve and I squeeze myself into Walmart, a few last-minute gifts for the two grown sons who make up the whole of me. My known. Maybe I’ll buy some stocking stuffers like Chapstick and cologne, a Tootsie-Roll bank to make them smile for nostalgia’s sake.
In the aisle, a few remnants of holiday gift packs lie haphazardly on near-empty shelves. A gentleman to my left picks one up, looks it over, sets it back on the shelf. I do the same on my end. We look at each other, smile weakly, a lost look in both our eyes.
“I have no idea what to buy a 16-year-old girl,” He says.
“And I have no idea what to buy two twenty-something boys.”
We’re awkwardly quiet as we scan the scant options. Jingle Bells plays for the umpteenth time over our heads and the check-out line threatens to spill down our aisle. This world is so very full. Overflowing.
The stranger speaks again. “Jesus is the reason for the season.”
I’m struck surprised and inadvertently look to my right for an easy escape should I need it. His declaration was the last thing I expected at such a moment. But a sudden silence surrounds me, fills me, really. The din stills.
“Yes, He is,” I replied.
He asked, “Do you have Jesus in your heart?”
“I do. And you?”
“Every day, Sister.”
I smiled wide surprisingly comforted inside.
“Every day, Brother.”
We each make a hasty selection, say “Merry Christmas”, and walk our separate ways. As I go, I wonder if he’s smiling as big as I am at that moment, a wide, enveloping smile welling up from the depths of my heart.
I am known.
That brief moment in the middle of a packed and picked-over Walmart on a snowy Christmas Eve was nearly 10 years ago now, but I’ve thought of it each and every year since. I wonder if that stranger remembers it, too. I hope he does.
If not, I’d like to see him again and tell him how his reaching out in the midst of the holiday mayhem did me a world of good, how his hearty declaration of faith and the “reason for the season” made me feel a little less alone in the world. No, a whole lot less alone. I’d like that stranger to know that in that moment I was reminded that I am part of something so much bigger than my scant little world.
For just as each of us has one body with many members,
and these members do not all have the same function,
so in Christ we, though many, form one body,
and each member belongs to all the others.
(Romans 12:4-5 NIV)
This is a hard time of year for many, possibly for you. Maybe your world is scant and your family few. I know you. I also know the presence of a Brother at Walmart, a kinship not of this world. I know the presence of this huge group of people spread across the globe that I can call my family, my siblings. We are so much more than a single orphan girl standing alone in Walmart on Christmas Eve.
We are many. Robust.
This time of year reminds us that we are right next to each other, side by side. We are family. We know and we are known. And this- all this because of the Christ child who arrived alone to bind us all together, each to the other.