Every Christmas I visit my family for a week or more in my Southern Idaho hometown. In addition to opening presents, decorating the tree and eating entirely too much dessert, the days are crammed with chats with my mother over tea, observing my grandmother’s latest quilting projects, learning about my brother’s latest building jobs and hanging out with my niece and nephew.
The last few times I’ve been home, I’ve wanted to savor more moments than I ever have before. Maybe it’s because I know that life is passing by faster than I’d like, and that I don’t get much time to share in my loved ones’ lives. So I’m taking little, mental snapshots of special moments when I’m with those I love and trying to burn them into my brain so I can recall them later when post-holiday loneliness sets in.
I sing songs with my niece, teach her to stand on her head, look into her young 6-year-old face and try to capture the look in her dancing green eyes. Click. Burn. I take note of how my nephew has grown and how much his voice has changed. I notice he tells me that he loves me and I throw up a silent prayer that God would help him to grow into His man. Click. Burn. I enjoy my mother and the talks we have over tea, a bag of popcorn, a bowl of jelly beans. We laugh. Argue. Tease. Tell jokes and talk about deep things and God. Click. Burn. I see my brother’s latest building project and I wish that he somehow knew how proud I am of him. Click. Burn. I watch my sister-in-law laugh when she tells a joke about my brother. I can’t believe how much I have grown to love her since she has become a part of our family. Click. Burn. I watch my sister as her eyes dance with excitement because she is taking a new college class that thrills her. My heart aches with joy for her joy. Click. Burn. I admire my grandmother as she tells me stories about her life and shares her courage and hope for the future. Click. Burn.
After all of my “mental picture taking‚” I board a plane to return to Colorado. As I walk down the runway, a sense of melancholy settles in to my heart like a cloud ready to rain. Now I really am all alone again. Thankfully, I’ve saved my “snapshots‚” for comfort when I’m without family, and when my only connection to anyone with my last name is through my cell phone.
When I arrive home, I turn the key in the door and I walk in. It’s entirely too quiet. The bed is just as I left it. An old jug of milk is still in the refrigerator, an empty cereal bowl in the sink. I think of my girlfriends who spent Christmas with their families and are still with those they love. My heart aches. I know that the restful sleep I enjoyed while I was under my mother’s roof will be replaced by tossing and turning as responsibilities go back to normal. I also know that for a few days my place will feel far too quiet until I get accustomed to being alone again.
I go to bed, roll over onto my right side and curl up into the fetal position. I stare through the blinds into the dark night and tell God that there is something wrong with a 40-year-old woman putting herself to bed without anyone to hold. A quiet tear trickles down my left cheek and lands silently in the dark. Suddenly, I am reminded of God and His presence that has been with me all along through every moment of my life.
Snapshots quickly fill my mind, one after another. No, not those of my family, but those of me with God, of things He has done, of moments when He has intervened in my life, protected me and blessed me. A quiet love envelopes me and I sense His presence. He has stored these pictures in my memory and brought them up to help me combat the post-holiday blues. It’s like He’s opened an album and is turning the pages. “See, Shana. These are the things that I have done. You have never been alone and you aren’t alone now.‚”
I see the face of an old friend who comforted me when my father died, myself in the late ’80s in London, wandering the streets alone talking to God. I see Him heal my heart when someone I loved betrayed me. And there are many, many other “snapshots‚” of the memories God has made with me: me playing softball, shooting basketballs and hitting volleyballs. There are faces of many, many people who have loved me through the years and times when He rescued me from danger, financial trouble and desperation.
New tears wash my cheeks, but these are tears of gratitude that soak my pajama collar.
God, you have been so very good to me. How can I believe that I am ever alone? How I praise you.
Yes, He has been the best friend who never leaves and He has walked with me every step of the way. He has been with me every Christmas, New Year’s and everything in-between. Lord, praise you that you are the God who always stays.
If you struggle with post-holiday loneliness, give God a chance to show you how you have never been alone. Then, praise Him for the gift of His presence.
Shana Schutte is a freelance writer, author and speaker living in Colorado Springs, Colo.. (www.runtogodministries.org)