A Lonely Birthday

by Jonathan

I swim in the abyss of memories. People and places I cannot return to, and few know.

It is a morass I voluntarily enter, knowing it will hurt, but needing it still. Someone should remember these things.

Birthdays used to be happy occasions, full of cake and memories of years gone by. Now, birthdays are just full of memories of years gone. And places gone. And people gone.

Home, once lost, can never be regained. Another home can be built, to be sure, but what has been cannot be again. It is gone.

There is hope. But hope for the future does not remove loss from the past.

When does one grow up and forget their childhood? Thirty-five? Eighty-five? I think never. Something deep and strange happens when the heart goes back. When pictures show you things you remember feeling more than seeing. Like the faded painting on the wall – of water fowl and cattails — that I haven’t thought of in decades. My mom loved that painting. It feels peaceful, silently overwatching a family grow up, and then leave.

Another picture shows my late mom and dad in the kitchen, but what I see is the blue metal bowl with white speckles. It was part of the country kitchen I grew up in, the one with glass doors looking out upon green, or brown, or white, depending on the season. I see that bowl and hear the clank of metal spoon upon metal bowl, and I feel at home. No one else had metal bowls.

Oh how mysterious is the snapshot that elicits such emotions!

I look at the photos slowly, seeing the details. Looking for the background. The memories swarm, and I let them. Something deep within is washed by these shadows of what was. I need this cleansing. I need to remember my moorings.

I won’t be getting a call from my mom on my birthday. She won’t be telling me she’s proud of me, or asking about the grandkids. I won’t hear about how her journey with God is growing and changing.

My dad won’t ask about my work or ministry. We won’t talk about books or hawks or how tall the grass is.

A Pacific separates me from siblings. Time separates me from everything else.

For now.

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For the time being, I am time’s subject. Moving at its pace, regardless. But time is God’s subject, and at the end of all things, time itself will be changed, and we will reign with him “forever and ever.” Time’s thermodynamic authority will be renounced, along with its painful propensity to separate. No longer will time rob and decay, slowly pulling like gravity on the soul.

God will finally do something I never could, although I was told to often enough. He will redeem time.

And he will relocate.

In a physical, undeniably earthly way, he will come home.

“Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.” (Revelation 21:3)

And when he gets here, He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4)

He’s longing for home too.

So, in my drownings and darkness, perhaps I am brushing up against the heart of God. Perhaps I am tasting his tears too.

I will never go home again. Until I do.

And that home will last forever, and not just in snapshots and pixels. It will last forever, in three-dimensional space, because of him. And all those longings, elicited by memories of home, will in turn be satisfied.

I will belong, with my own place at the table.

I will be at peace.

I will be wanted. There will be a mutual desire for presence. I will desire to be with God, and he will desire to be with me.

And then I’ll find my mom and dad and a blue metal bowl, and we’ll sit and talk forever about work, and grandkids, and maybe even grass.

And we will be,

Home.

A Christmas letter to parents, from a kid who doesn’t have any

by Jonathan | 

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Your kids aren’t going to remember what you get them for Christmas. They’re just not.

At least I don’t.

My mother died when I was a teen, my dad when I was in my early twenties. And when I think of the holiday seasons with them, I remember them. I don’t remember their gifts.

I remember my mom stomping down snow and scattering bird seeds to feed the menagerie of winged color that knew where to find a good meal.

I remember slow evenings around rock and wood and fire.

I remember egg nog, sipped slowly, and luminaries of sand and wax.

I remember Christmas Eve walks with family, sometimes comfortable and sometimes minus twenty.

I remember their love, not their presents.

Remember, the one with the most toys does not win.

Your kids don’t need more stuff. They need you.

To put it bluntly, there will come a Christmas without you. Hopefully, it’ll come much later, but it might come sooner. That’s not a morbid thought, it’s a centering thought. Your kids will always have stuff. They will not always have you.

So hug them. Read to them.
For Christ’s sake, be silly with them and show them that joy exists outside of presents.

Dance with your children and make memories. Watch Elf together and belly laugh. Schedule some down time. Block it out on your calendar because it’s important. Say no to something so you can say yes to something better.

Pause long enough this holiday season to cuddle with your little one. Or listen to your big kid. Don’t spend so much time watching football with your kids that you never play football with them.

Remember: it’s not about stuff. It never was, and it never will be.

Please, don’t give your children something so cheap as things. Stuff never connects people in meaningful ways. In fact, it seems to have the opposite effect, isolating the user: “I play with my stuff and you play with yours.”

Stuff fills our hands, making it harder to touch another person’s soul.

Stuff fills our ears, blocking out the heart-cries of the near ones.

Stuff fills our eyes all the way to the periphery, keeping us from seeing the tremendous value in the people right here.

Remember, the best memories are not made of money. The best memories are made of people and places. If you have money, spend it on memories. If you don’t have money, that’s ok too, because money’s certainly not a prerequisite for memories.

Remember, for this Christmas and the ones to come, the gifts won’t be remembered. Your presence will. Or your absence. Both of my parents are absent now; I can’t change that and neither can they. But while they still could, they gave me memories. And I do remember.

I remember my mother’s last Christmas. She was sick and we all knew it. That last Christmas morning, she sat on the couch and held a large stuffed bear and watched her children. And she smiled.

And that smile remains one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever received.