I had wondered how this season would be. And so far it’s been hard.
All the other difficult days we have faced so far, have been isolated, preceded by days of dreadful anticipation and followed by days of sad processing. But this season, this Advent season is prolonged. Part of me truly wishes to go to sleep and wake up in the middle of January. At the same time, I am struggling with leaving 2018 behind. Because Tony was here in 2018. He was a part of it. He lived in it. And I don’t want to let that go. There have been years, recently, when I have just been so glad to see the end of December. Hoped for something new and better in the next year. But now? I don’t want to turn my back on this year at all. I don’t want to lose that almost tangible connection to him being here.
I anticipated that this lead up to Christmas would feel very empty. I had begun to feel just that, as the rest of the world around me began to collectively become excited, happier, sillier, over-the-top, loud and bright. I have felt empty.
And then, wonderfully, something started to happen that brought us joy like shafts of light. It began on the first day of Christmas. A friend arrived with a beautiful white bauble for our Christmas tree and a written message of love and kindness which remembered Tony. The next morning another friend called at the door announcing herself as the second day of Christmas, carrying a delicate glass angel for the tree. It wasn’t until the next day though that I realised a pattern was emerging. Another friend had come to sit in with my two and she brought with her a glittering angel encased in a glass bauble. As the next days passed, the three of us began to look expectantly around the step of the front door and in the post box for any surprise packages. And over the days we discovered such a variety of thoughtful gifts and messages for us and our tree. The anticipation, the discovery, the delight in receiving such kindness, somehow began to soak up the emptiness. The 12th day saw the opening of a special Christmas Eve gift from the dear friend thousands of miles away who had mobilised all the other friends to this 12 days of Christmas giving! Amazingly friends who didn’t even know what was happening have gifted us with angels for the tree or our home, adding to the wonder of it all. Oh, how loved, protected and cared for we have felt as each one has poured in something of themselves to our little family. Some hope, some smiles, some joy, some kindness. Thank you.
Yesterday the postman called with a package full of surprises from dear friends. It’s always a joyful moment that brings close those who are physically far away. As we untied the string around gifts which brought smiles and excitement, I thought of the precious hands that had tied the bows thousands of miles away – their touch brought near again. (Can you understand why I have to keep that string now?!) As I opened a letter full of news, hopes, words which were thoughtful and kind, the heart of a friend was brought close. I didn’t feel sadness in the missing, I felt joy in the nearness this package had delivered.
Yesterday was the day that Ethan and I had planned to surprise the postman with a bar of chocolate – something to keep him going for the rest of his round. This was an idea from 40acts.org.uk. We had wondered if we would even see him and so having him knock the door was just the perfect thing to happen. He was a bit surprised and very thankful for the treat. But, in the giving, I think Ethan’s heart was even fuller than the postman’s. ‘This is for you. Have a nice day!’
Over the last 2 ½ years, as a family, we have been totally overwhelmed at the financial and practical generosity of people. Envelopes put through our door or into our hands with cash or vouchers tucked inside. Food parcels from a local church who understood our need. In times of despair and hopelessness these profoundly kind and timely gifts have brought us tearfully to our knees. The gratitude in our hearts has not always been expressed in person as often these were anonymous gifts. But I am convinced that the joy in the heart of the givers has matched and even surpassed our thankfulness.
If you are reading this and are one of those givers (secret or not) – THANK YOU. Please know that you have impacted our lives in remarkable ways, helped us when we couldn’t see a way, and blessed us beyond anything we feel that we deserve.
Thankfully the darkness of those times has largely passed and we are again hopeful for a new season ahead and the opportunities for us to give again in the way that we have received. Believe me, I know that it’s not all about giving financially. There is so much that we have received from the hearts of our family and friends that is immeasurable: support, encouragement, listening ears (often while I cry), kindness, prayer and understanding – because of ALL of this, we are still standing.
In this season of #doinglentgenerously I wanted to mark the sand with this expression of gratitude.