We all four hopped in the car, heading to the store to buy Christmas gifts for our “adopted” little boys who live over the hill in a poor part of town. These littles, both under five years old, don’t have families of their own to buy them gifts, a fact that broke Tween’s heart so that he exclaimed, “Let’s adopt them for real! I want two little brothers!” If we could… But we can buy them some gifts to brighten their Christmas just a smidge. It’s not enough, but it’s something.
Only two blocks down the road we got the call: our friend has passed. Just in time for Christmas, he’ll be singing Christmas carols with the angels this year, in the glorious presence of Jesus Christ Himself.
We immediately drove to their house, the privilege and price of being both a pastor’s family and friends. We hugged and cried and sat on the linoleum kitchen floor. The two-ton tabby stepped over and around us, winding between extended hands, his soft snuggles in contrast with the jagged-broken crunch in our hearts. As directed we sent texts and emails to let others know of our dear friend’s loss, one less thing for the bereaved to do.
Our kids were troopers, so sad themselves at the loss of their “local grandfather,” but willing to tell stories, to make people laugh, to give comfort in their way. Together we talked about earth time (a blink) and eternity (forever), about hope in God’s love, about God’s broken heart as He holds His grieving people.
Teen was in kindergarten when cancer took my dad. On Tween’s first birthday, a day of course he doesn’t remember but links them forever. And Tween was in third grade when cancer took my grandma; her last taste of food was a bite of the churro dessert in his Mexican fast food kid’s meal. These boys have witnessed the hard work of dying, that love and sorrow and joy weave families together in painful shared experience, the dying unraveled and the living wrapped up and handed back to the world to figure out a new “normal.”
We sat together not eating through dinnertime until the Hospice nurse and then the mortician arrived. We hugged and cried some more, spoke words intended to comfort, and we left. We picked up the now-cold Chinese food we’d ordered hours earlier. We went shopping for the little boys, our big boys picking out toys and books they loved years ago. We bought big decorative gift bags to wrap these gifts, imagining the boys’ smiles. Where will they be on Christmas morning? Who will help them create Christmas memories? We went home, warmed up and ate dinner in front of a sitcom, an attempt at levity in our sadness.
I didn’t sleep well. Today the sun shines silver through the white-cloud sky, a temporary reprieve from the rain reported to resume tomorrow. It’s cold. I shiver, as much from sleeplessness and sadness as from the actual chill in the air. Tears well up and recede, abiding by a mysterious tear tide chart. They’ll crash, unpredictably. More than once, I’m sure.
I miss my friend, the one who never failed to greet me with, “Howdy, friend!” Whose big hug and stable, unflappable personality chuckled at our silly kid drama, who prayed for us, who modeled for my boys a life of masculine faith and commitment to family, to serving others, to loving well. Who called his wife his “girlfriend” and “sweetheart” because he intended to always woo and court this beautiful woman who won his heart so many years ago. I ache for her as she cannot imagine life without his companionship, cannot fathom coming moments of joy.
Today, in this bleak midwinter, this article appears, some small balm for the brokenhearted.
“Emmanuel — God with us. God with us and for us and in us and holding us and this is the Christmas miracle that outlasts all of time…. Evidence of God’s existence is cold comfort. What warms us is the wounded, weeping God who doesn’t write answers in stars – but writes His ardent love in our scars.
“With His scars.
“The miracle of Christmas is we get more than proof of God’s existence. We get the experience of God’s presence.
“We get our Christmas miracle. We get God with us.”
Thank you, Father, for sending your Son to be with us, to suffer with us, to suffer for us. Thank you for pouring out your love on us, for holding us even when we can’t feel your arms of love. We need a Christmas miracle of hope in the experience of your presence. Emmanuel, we need you now more than ever. Come, O come, Emmanuel!