Not that I've had much time to think, let alone breathe, this December.
For a month that is already filled with the sugar rush of holiday parties, the hilarity of Christmas pageant antics, and the heady success of checking off a gift list, I decided to have a baby two days into the busiest season of the year.
Add lack of sleep and a cranky three year old who is no longer the center of attention in her dad and mom's lives, by Christmas Eve we were ready for a long vacation on a remote island with no wifi access.
Instead Caleb and I packed Hayden and her new brother Lincoln into our tiny Prius and headed four hours south to spend the holiday with my in-laws.
And it's been lovely. I've had family members relieve me of the burden of constantly holding Lincoln or playing with Hayden. I've had time to take a nap, go to a movie, and watch Food Network uninterrupted.
As I took in this scene, I felt a raw emotion begin in the pit of my stomach and start to fight its way up to my throat. I tried to stuff it down, to not think about it, to not let it consume me.
I didn't want to cry in the middle of watching Disney Junior.
You see, I miss my girls.
I miss them every day, but especially today. As I watched my two living children, I felt the ache of longing for the two I lost a year ago.
I wanted Amelie and Adaline to be part of this scene. Had they lived and been healthy, they might have just been learning to walk, relatives crowded around trying to capture those first moments of wobbly staggering on their phones.
If they had lived, I might have had to help them open their presents, because one year olds are more fascinated with wrapping paper than the actual gift.
They could have sat in their high chairs at Christmas dinner, eating mashed potatoes and trying the texture of green beans.
They could have watched Hayden blow out the candles on our birthday cake for Jesus and then licked the frosting from their fingers.
Many of us are missing someone this week, whether it's a child, a parent, a friend, or a spouse. The hollowness we feel can be vast, bottomless, cavern-like in its enormity. We might shut ourselves in a room, away from the happy faces, the bright lights, and the general hubbub of the season, and double over in pain, trying to stifle the gut-wrenching sobs that threaten to give us away to the rest of our happy community.
During this week, my thoughts often turn toward Mary the mother of Jesus, and the excitement and terror she must have felt as a teenager giving birth to her first son. I wonder about Mary the older woman, and the sleepless nights she spent after her son's death, resurrection, and final departure to heaven, knowing in her heart she would see him again, but grieving that she could never embrace him in this life.
There are no easy answers. I write this tonight because I know it helps me to sort through the chaos in my thoughts.
Whatever you need to do to sort through your own chaos, your own grief over missing a loved one, take a moment to do it.
Shut out the noise. Find a quiet place.
And remember, pray, grieve, celebrate that loved one.
Remember "God with us."
Not just in the manger, but in our emptiness.
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