This year we took a family Christmas photo, true to the common tradition that families everywhere enjoy from year to year. In 2007, we were overjoyed to do a photo as a married couple and also as expectant parents. In 2008, our joy had grown even more as we got to enjoy having little Gabriel’s sweet smile join the photo. In 2009, however, our happiness was tainted and the photo felt incomplete. While we had missed having Covenant in previous photos, our grief was compounded by the deaths of Glory, Promise, and Peace in 2009. Suddenly the impact of not having any of these four faces included in our photo was weighty. We took the photo anyway, but felt an awkward imbalance of joy and grief. In 2010, Hosanna had just died so recently and our hearts ached over the additional deaths of Mercy, Victory, and our Hosanna-boy so much that I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t want the photo with so many missing faces. The grief was too overwhelming. The pain was too intense. Death, and recurrent death at that, was too fresh. Eventually we did take a picture in front of my parents’ hearth just to stick with tradition, but as soon as the picture was taken, I cried. And nearly wished we hadn’t taken it.
But this year? We are still missing seven little faces. There is still grief in our hearts that sin entered the world, and as one of the many consequences, death entered our family’s life. But the Lord has restored our fortunes, in the wording of Psalm 126. He has renewed our hope and strengthened our loins. He has given us a respite in the drenching storm. And we believe this is reflected in our 2011 family Christmas photo. Much of this is obviously due to the fourth face you now see present in this picture, and the mercy God has extended to us through this little boy’s life.
I have often wondered if my pain with Christmas photos is unique to myself and my heart. But as I found out for sure today, it is not. Jess, one of the sweetest & most candid bereaved mamas you’ll find online (or anywhere), wrote in a Christmas post about the traditional family Christmas photo so eloquently. So many of her words (emphases mine) could have been taken right out of my mouth:
“Christmas is a wonderful time of year, but along with it comes many mixed emotions…especially as we send out our Christmas cards. Our family picture represents the life that God has entrusted to us this year…not one, but two sweet boys. We love those boys so much and feel incredibly blessed to be their parents. But when we look at our family picture we cannot help but be reminded of a huge hole. A hole that our daughter Cora left behind. A hole that forever makes our family feel incomplete. We are so thankful that Christmas is about more than pretty decorations, presents, fun traditions, or even a “complete” family Christmas card. We celebrate because Christmas is the time God kept his promise to send a Savior. It is amazing to think that God sent his Son to the earth as a tiny baby to save us…to save me. What an incredible truth to celebrate. A truth that assures us that because of that tiny baby in the manger and His death on the cross for us, we can have a personal relationship with Him. And we can look forward in great anticipation to the day we will stand “complete” before our Heavenly Father. A solid truth and HOPE that we can live by.”
Amen and Hallelujah!!
Last year, this verse from It Came Upon a Midnight Clear was the most impacting thing I sang, as I was crushed beneath life’s load, and my heart as well as my body was bent so low; my steps were dreadfully painful and each one felt glacially slow; I so much wanted to rest and hear… but oh dear, was it incredibly hard!
Beneath life’s crushing load
Whose forms are bending low
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow
For glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing
This year, the song that impacted my heart the most was O Come, All Ye Faithful, and the charge I get to sing to Covenant, Glory, Promise, Peace, Mercy, Victory, and Hosanna. They are citizens of heaven, and I get to charge my sweet children to sing glory to God in the highest! I love that. And this year, my heart is blessed and encouraged by that.
Sing choirs of angels, sing in exultation
Sing all ye citizens of heav’n above
Glory to God, all glory in the highest!
So this year, my heart is balmed, my grief is less fresh, my hope is renewed, my happiness is restored, my joy is strengthened.
Thanks be to God!