FIRST-PERSON: It's not that the children won't be home for Christmas
ATLANTA (BP)--Chasing scrambled eggs with a gulp of sweet coffee, I glanced up at the baffled faces of my son and husband and tried to force a smile through my tears.
We were seated around the dining room table, enjoying a late breakfast of my son Jon's favorite -- biscuits and gravy -- before he hit the road to return to college.
Listening for the dryer buzzer to sound, indicating his clothes were ready for the ride back to the dorm, I was not contributing to the low hum of conversation. Instead, my attention was focused on the corner of the living room where the Christmas tree would go.
Memories of last year came back in snatches. Choosing the largest tree on the lot with my son. Riding home to our seminary apartment with half the tree hanging out the back of our car -- being stared at all the way down the street. Sitting for days and staring at the cartons of decorations and not wanting to open them by myself. An encouraging phone call from my husband who had taken a job four states away. A middle of the night call from my college daughter to remind me to make sure I made enough cinnamon rolls for her and all her friends.
This year the family is together, but with both children in college, my husband had seemingly switched places with my son and I was feeling lonely.
So the tears flowed again.
It's not that the children won't be home for Christmas. Both will spend at least a few weeks around the tree. It's just that for the first time in 19 years no child would be around to offer their opinion or pout at being outvoted on the tree.
I don't know why I hadn't thought of it before. There I was, in a house just made for decorating and my best little critics would be out of the picture. I don't think the men understood, really. They did their best to respond sensitively. My son cracked a corny joke. My husband reminded him to drive safely. Finally, we cleared the table and waved him on from the driveway.
Prepared to mope around, I plunked down in my easy chair with a book in hand.
But instead of allowing me to wallow in misery, my newly empathetic husband told me to go and get dressed so we could do some shopping.
"Don't you still need stuff?" he asked gruffly.
My husband's actions that day have lasted all throughout our planning for the season. Like the poem "Footprints," he has reminded me that I don't do this alone. He has been there for me -- in everything from selecting the largest tree on the lot to hammering in nails and hanging outside decor. He assisted me in wrapping the tree with lights and patiently waited while I buried all 10 strings exactly where I wanted them to go. He even moved the large boxes and bins out of sight into the laundry room, without being asked.
While in past years my husband may have had other responsibilities that left me to fend on my own with the children, this year he has been a reminder of the fact that Jesus is always there and just waiting for the time when we need him to pick us up and carry us through whatever situation we are in.
Things happen. Kids grow up, we move, we have job changes, we experience a plethora of things we might not have ever expected would happen. But still, God never changes. He is there for us. He sent his Son for us, in the big and the small things. Fellowship is ours for the asking.
I still feel twinges and snatches of grief over various difficulties, especially of this past year. It has not been easy, but all along Jesus has just stood there with arms open wide, waiting for me to jump in. And right beside Jesus has been my husband.
I don't know if I can ever fully appreciate the grief he suffered this past year after being forced to resign his ministry position. Hope and optimism were fleeting, and a spirit of bitterness hovered. It was as if the battle between good and evil stood at the brink. But faithfully, taking each day at a time and taking God at his word, John has triumphed and been made stronger by a God who carries us when we are down and finally encourages us to stand when we are ready. My husband's perseverance and his sensitivity has been the example for me. He has not focused on his pain, but has expressed concern and care for the children and me. We travel along the same path now, more than ever, and I can feel his viable presence.
Gone are the days when the four of us stand in a tree lot fretting over the perfect tree; instead, we will learn to share and relate as four adults. It might come as a surprise to the two youngest that mom and dad are learning to adjust to their absence. It might even shock them to discover their parents might enjoy the freedom. Finally, when it comes to the tree this year, it might mean the two youngest will have to concede their parents did fine on their own.
Joni B. Hannigan is a freelance writer in Atlanta, where she teaches high school English and journalism. Her husband John is a 2000 graduate of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where he earned the master of arts in Christian education in his calling in education and administration. He has taken a temporary position as a high school in-school suspension supervisor in Georgia.