They were all home for a few weeks. Now the kids are gone, flown back to their other lives, and we’re quiet again. The Christmas decorations are still up, and there are bits and pieces of left-behind stuff strewn across the family room. If I look around, I can pretend they’re only out for a little while and will be back any minute.
This Christmas season, all five of us were temporarily reunited. Our traveler came home, and our college students came home, and it was our first full Hello after a long Goodbye. You know what was going on in my head while the five of us were hugging each other in a joyous bone-crushing huddle? That cheesy old R&B song “Reunited and it feels so good”. Not exactly how I pictured the moment, but that’s ok. There was a full gallon of milk in the fridge, cookies waiting, and a real meal on the table. I was happy.
Until the next day, when I realized I must have somehow gotten used to the quiet house; having the kids here was jarring. Maybe they felt the same way. They were used to their new lives, and now they were back in the land of people (us) questioning their plans. If home is where your stuff is, they were not exactly home.
After a day of awkwardness, in which I handled my conflicted feelings by baking up every scrap of sugar and flour in the house, we settled down and remembered that we were, indeed, still a family and we did, indeed, still know each other at a level we’ve rarely achieved with anyone else. I had so much fun looking across the room and seeing the three siblings laughing together on the couch as if they had never been apart. So much fun to see the good changes in them as they’ve pursued the paths God’s given them. For two weeks, we had Hello after Hello as each day we all woke up in the same house and spent the days together.
I tried not to think about the Goodbye looming in the distance. It’s strange how our Hellos now are tinged with so much Goodbye right from the start; so different from when they were little, when our goodbyes were temporary, simple, and pretty much only occurred when they spent the night with a friend. I always knew I’d see them within 24 hours. There was no question where “home” was.
Have you ever ruined your present by thinking too much about the unpleasant future? Yeah, that’s what I tried not to do this Christmas. Mostly I succeeded. Mostly I let myself sink into the moments and enjoy the laughter, the noise, and even the multiple loads of dishes and laundry. We drove around and looked at Christmas lights. We sang the same Christmas songs. We visited the same relatives. Our kids’ leaving home, and our being left behind, has fundamentally changed all of us. So it was the very ordinariness of Christmas that made this one special.
The Goodbye came soon enough. On our last evening together as a family, everyone was just sitting around not doing much of anything – which was wonderful – and I was trying to hold it together. Seemingly no one else was falling apart, but there I was, one tender moment away from losing it, when I heard God’s words inside my head, saying, “Good job for not keeping them all to yourself! You’re letting them go, and they’re giving their amazingness to the world!”
Now, I don’t know if God uses words like “amazingness” – it’s not even grammatically correct – but I’m pretty sure that’s what He said. I cheered right up after that, because God is right. I love my adult children and I hate to see them go, but I’m so proud of the people they’ve become that I can’t help but share them with the world. Most parents feel the same way, I imagine. And I’m only at the beginning of seeing how my children are going to change their worlds; it will be so much fun over the next decades to see them take their places in the centers of something new.
Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes. We hold onto what we can, and let the rest go, and somehow we all make it through, don’t we? I have the hope an eternal perspective brings, too. Someday we’ll all be reunited in heaven, where there are no Goodbyes, only one long permanent Hello.