As in Clement Clarke Moore’s classic poem, our “stockings were hung by the chimney with care” … save one minor detail – we don’t actually have a chimney, just a mantelpiece (where a gas insert is supposed to go). Twenty stockings in all were hung, one for each of our grown offspring, as well as the in-laws and grands, with an extra stocking included for my Beloved’s brother who lives nearby.
Given the number of people coming together, our Christmas gatherings usually have a boisterous and sometimes chaotic quality. Children are everywhere, running inside and out, upstairs and down, constantly asking when we eat next, or more importantly, is it time to open presents yet!
The pandemonium was short-lived this year. Because Christmas fell on a Monday, out-of-town family members were quick to depart. A ski slope beckoned. Others had work responsibilities. The adults didn’t even have time for a customary late-night poker match.
Once the house fell silent, I remembered a blog post I’d read before Christmas: Why Christmas Never Lives Up to the Buildup. Posted by Tony Reinke, a senior writer at DesiringGod.org, the post mainly addresses Christians living in what Reinke calls “the space between.” (With both Christmas and my birthday coming on the same day, I experience this “buildup” as a kind of double whammy.)
Notwithstanding Reinke’s observations, when the echoes of laughter and gaiety cease, I mourn. I know God has graciously blessed me far beyond any merit of my own. I’m able to regard Reinke’s concept of the space between because I live in hope, the promise of Christmas one day fulfilled. That’s the reality about which I’m confident … but knowing I have that precious hope doesn’t negate my mourning.
Amid all the Christmas reverie, my brain invoked an absent Face and Voice. I dismissed those longings temporarily … until it was just me and God alone. Then I mourned. Yes, in “the already but not yet” (Reinke’s phrase), I draw on the “inexhaustible well of God’s grace” (another Reinke phrase) for those thoroughly-human disappointments (the buildups) that are often self-inflicted by-products of living in the here and now.
My brain insists I have no right to wallow; I have friends who’ve lost sons or daughters in death, on the battlefield or through other tragedies. Such audacity to mention my “pain” compared to the pain of losing a child in death?!
Though I acknowledge a grown adult should never be forced to associate with his/her family … even during the holidays, I mourn the accumulated years that cannot be retrieved and the loss our grandchildren endure because they long to know their absent uncle. I’m not complaining nor soliciting sympathy. I recognize other families experience fractured relationships, too. Still, the proverbial Christmas buildup – in this case, our yearning to reconnect with our long-absent loved one – failed to live up to the anticipation.
When memory grows dull (as it tends to do with age), I need reminders confirming he once lived among us. A vibrant child grown into a delightful young man, his dry wit and thoughtful demeanor kept us amazed and amused and so grateful for the blessing he was in our lives. Like sports announcers viewing a questionable call from the refs, we turn to old cassette tapes affirming the flesh-and-blood reality of our fourth child.
The first voice is my Beloved’s. Our younger son was maybe three years old and his older brother can be heard ragging on him (as older brothers do). Like many young children whose enunciation lacks refinement, the words are somewhat difficult to understand … until our son speaks his name. Later, when he thinks the “taping ‘corder” seems not to capture his words, he whines with disappointment.
This recording grows dearer each year our son’s absence persists. Despite my self-indulgent mourning, I will ever give thanks that once upon a time, I was blessed to know and deeply love the child who can be heard emphatically proclaiming his name: Andrew Edward Oelschlaeger. How we crave to hear his voice today!