“…The despair of that night was necessary so that, three days later, a reason for hope now, and fullness of joy later, could be offered to all.”
Julie Ackerman Link, writing for Our Daily Bread, paraphrased this from John 16:33, and it resonated strongly (not just for the 33!) but in the timing of it, the morning after the day of the boxes.
It speaks to love, acknowledges despair, and amplifies the fact that only through both is the full story of Christ’s Promise shared. Only through both can we experience the full spectrum of joy and hope, promise and love.
And so it was with the boxes. Those tucked away Christmas boxes that finally found their way out of the basement this year.
The first few were really okay. I had steeled myself well, but happily found many things delightful to come across. Christmas placemats from Gramma Nelson, porcelain wise men from Gramma Bonnie, handwritten notes from Matt’s mom, Cameron’s sleigh bell from a most magical 2nd grade year, Shivers the Reindeer and other stuffed friends the boys collected through the years. One after another they came out, and treasured memories of years past came with.
The ornament and nativity boxes I saved for later, but then it came. The box I didn’t know I was holding my breath for, but turned out I was. Just a first glance brought a racing heart, shallow breath, and the familiar ache, so ready to wrap itself tightly in despair. This was the box that truly held the years…
The books were stacked along one side. The ones that could easily stop the decorating in lieu of an afternoon snuggle up, no matter how old the boys were. And that tiny little Christmas Story fold-out book! How it survived the years I’ll never know. They loved to open up those zig zag folded pages, ‘read’ the pictures, and then puzzle fold it all back together again.
The artwork was stacked throughout. Their coloring, writing, and precious signatures through the years all saved and savored. This was also the box that held the funny, the poignant, and the oh so serious letters to Santa. Like the one from an ever and always so logical 7 or 8 year old Jake, where he asked Santa to ‘please sign here’ at the end of his letter. Verifying he had read it? Assuring he was who he said he was? Knowing Jake, both are most likely true!
This was the box that did me in. The one that left me collapsed into myself that afternoon, my heart weeping itself weary as I held those precious memories and tried them back on.
And it was only there in the emptying that the offering came. God’s reminder that not a single tear is wasted, not one can be shed beyond His reach, and that it’s only within the emptying that true filling can come. That’s the gift He gave me in the box that afternoon, and what He’s continued to show me through this season.
Our sunset walk that day was a proving ground. The familiar route so spectacularly enhanced, as if putting on glasses for the first time, never having known you needed them. I marveled my way around the landscape, snow sparkling as if so many diamonds had been sprinkled from above; the air luminescent as the last streaks of sunlight shed light on dancing silvery filaments, and the sun eventually setting in a stunning multitude of color. But it was the utter stillness, the depth within it that simply filled me with His peace. It was stunning, and it was beautiful, and it was God’s prescriptive gift for me that day.
Through the emptying, He fills me once again. He holds me through the pain, and He helps me see, with freshly tear-washed eyes, that joy and wonder and love… these things are still true. God’s love is always, and it is faithful and freeing and hope-filling.
Joy can be the translation of despair.
And just like His gift to us, I believe the magnitude of one defines the realm of possibility for the other, when we open ourselves to the emptying.