As a military family, we moved a lot. Family and friends learned quickly to pencil us in, or risk whiting out their address books a dozen times or more. Sometimes we’d be given a weight allowance for those moves, and we’d have to spend time estimating how much a bike or a drum set weighed, and what portion of our allowance the boys’ hockey gear would take up, so we’d know which furniture to leave behind.
Sometimes the choices were easy, sometimes tough. A true give and take. But one thing we never left behind were the Christmas boxes. In my mind, they could take up our whole weight allowance by themselves, getting heavier with each passing year, and still they’d take precedence. They carried the weight of memories, and when you make ‘home’ wherever home is that year, memories and family reminders are everything. No matter where we were, those boxes would always sit ready to share their richness and then absorb the season’s best.
There’s no calculation for the weight my heart assigned to those boxes through the years. So inanimate in and of themselves, but with the magic of memories held within their depths.
Through every move they accompanied us, and through every Christmas season they’d reveal their magic. There were ornaments for the boys, fun and funny and representative of their changing interests through the years. Christmas pictures and cards with handwriting of loved ones remembered and missed. Sparkly school-day decorations, showcasing the boys’ names as they transitioned from big block print with adorable out of order backwards letters, to curly cursive as they tried their hand at that, and then back to print and their own unique style. Those boxes held nativities to play with and those to display, bringing life to the truth of the Christmas story. They’re filled with handmade crafts from friends, souvenirs turned ornaments reminiscent of places we lived or visited, and Christmas wish lists left for Santa, like the year Jake asked for a roller coaster, and Cameron wanted nothing but a baby sister.
That’s what those boxes hold, and so much more, traversing a life lived in transition, but made home in the space of each new address we were able to call ours for a while.
But this address hasn’t seen those boxes reveal their magic. This address and this new home have only housed those boxes stacked up tall in a corner of the basement.
The magic of those boxes, recalled through a broken heart, is a trick I just can’t seem to perform yet.
Because those boxes, the ones we continually exempted from our weight allowance and carried from place to place, overseas and across the country and back, they’re also the very same boxes we packed away after the phone rang and the Marines came. When the bright twinkly lights turned garish, and the decorations adorning the tree hung limply and taunting of a life we couldn’t understand could now be part of our story.
The thought of unpacking those boxes, packed up in the midst of the torrential grief, has simply tied me up in knots. And there they’ve sat since we moved, these last two… almost three years.
But God’s loving hand moves in and through those knots, and this year I’m asking myself, what am I doing by not? Is it somehow honoring to Jake to leave them stacked in the basement? Does shielding my heart from the season honor the reason for it, or help any of us savor and treasure its meaning fully?
Even as my fingers type out the letters that form the words, the thoughts reveal themselves for what they are.
And still. What stops me? What keeps those boxes stacked in the basement and closed up tight? Am I afraid it will somehow lessen the loss to experience the joy? Am I afraid they hold too much, but can never hold enough?
If so, would I give up one because of the other?
I took a break from jotting these thoughts this morning. Made the bed, straightened a few things, tried to exact order in the places I could, as my words struggled to make sense of my heart. And as I picked up a forgotten magazine to see if it had been sufficiently read and ready for recycling, the fanned out pages stopped here:
My heart skipped a beat as I recognized the gift upon that page. The reminder. The memories are what we have, and they are ours to keep.
They are ours to keep.
And that’s what those boxes hold. Heart connecting memories, carried from home to home, cataloguing life and love and laughter, and yes, loss.
But I find and I remember, that both are true.
Those boxes still carry what they did, and now they carry what they do.
Maybe this is the year I can carry the weight of both. And maybe reconnecting the memories to the magic comes from the act of opening a box. Taking another step in courage, along this path that demands it daily.
It’s just a step. And what love-filled memories the other side of it may hold. That’s what my heart needs to know and remember this year. That those Christmas boxes are filled with life. Our life, and the love and memories we packed up into them through each passing year.
My sister in law said it best this week: that strength and perseverance come in different sizes and shapes, and mine may just be tree-shaped this year (or box-shaped, as the case may be).
If I step back and think of what fills my heart, it’s this: sharing the moments of life together, creating memories that stitch down deep and make us laugh and smile and cry. The ones that make us remember.
That’s the path that illuminates the light of God’s love; the one I find my heartbeat within.
And maybe, just maybe, that illuminated path leads me down the basement steps.
I think it’s my heart that needs the allowance this year.
That needs to know and believe light and life and remembering lies in wait,
weighty and wonderful within those boxes.