Well, it's 9:00 p.m. on Christmas Day...and another Christmas is almost behind us. And I have to say that I'm glad it's coming to an end. Christmas is just not what it used to be.
It's not what it used to be when I was a little girl...when we used to have to wait until the grown-ups finished drinking their coffee after Christmas dinner before all of us kids (my brother and me and all our cousins) could start opening presents. Can you believe they made us wait until the afternoon before we could open our presents?! I never knew grown-ups could drink coffee so slowly!
It's not what it used to be when my girls were little...when Brad and I were almost more excited than they were about their presents. My girls were not early risers, and we were usually awake on Christmas morning long before they were...anxiously waiting for them to get up and tear into their presents.
And it's certainly not what it was before Hannah left our earthly home for her heavenly home. Certainly, the pain of her absence has moderated somewhat...the edges of the hole are not quite as sharp as they once were. The sadness is still there, but it's not crippling.
This year, more than ever, what has made me sad is thinking about how small our little family is. There are only three of us, and it just feels so incomplete. We were never supposed to be a family of three. Brad and I had always wanted at least two children, preferably three. Because of complications after Bethany was born, we were never able to have that third child, but that was okay...we were very content with our family of four.
We have a very large and loving extended family. In fact, we celebrated Christmas with the Sullivan side of the family last weekend in Waco, Texas, at my sister-in-law's home. We had a wild, raucous, wrapping-paper-ripping time of celebration while we were there. We are planning a Christmas celebration with my side of the family when my brother and his family come home from Indonesia on furlough in mid-January. We are really looking forward to that time with them, especially their two little girls, since we get to see them so rarely.
That meant that our Christmas celebration at home was very quiet this year, which is fine with us. We live such busy lives, we really enjoy just having some relaxing time to be together as a family. We decided to open presents on Christmas Eve this year. We knew we'd be going to church this morning, and just didn't want to have to rush that family time together.
We did have a guest join us for the evening...Bethany's boyfriend, Brad. I don't think he had any idea how much his presence helped us. In fact, I don't think he had a clue. The two of them have been friends for awhile now, and he's almost become part of the family. For a few hours, it almost felt like we were a family of four again. And I know it helped Bethany to have someone to open presents with. We really had a nice evening together last night. We also spent some time video-chatting with my brother in Indonesia on Skype, and that, too, helped our family not to feel quite so small.
As we walked into church this morning, I was struck once again by how small our family seemed. We took our place in our usual pew, and I know it's weird, but I kept thinking about what a small amount of space we filled up. I couldn't help but look at the families around us, all sitting together with their children, and looking somehow so much more "complete" than I felt we did. I even felt like other people were looking at us and thinking, "Awwww...look at them. Their family is so small without Hannah." The sermon was pretty much lost on me, and I ended up fighting tears through the whole service. By the time it was over, I had to get out of there. I barely held it together until I got out into the parking lot...well, okay, I didn't really hold it together, but I gave it a valiant effort. Sometimes, that's just all you can do.
We did have a really nice afternoon and evening...eating a delicious dinner of brisket with all of our favorite side dishes, watching movies, and playing games together. So nice just to relax and enjoy being together.
The name of this blog is "The Sullivan Four." That name actually comes from our email address, which for a few years now has been thesullivan4 at gmail.com. It was from that address that I sent all of the emails that became the journal of Hannah's journey through cancer. I started this blog after she went to Heaven, and I knew I wanted to use that name, but wondered whether it would really be more appropriate to call it "The Sullivan Three". After all, weren't we now a family of three?
I didn't think about it long, though. God quickly reminded me that even though Hannah is no longer physically present with us on earth, we are still a family of four. There is a separation between us right now...but it is only temporary. Hannah did not cease to exist on February 26, 2009...she is actually more alive than ever before...and we will be reunited with her one day. So, even though it feels like our family is small and incomplete right now, it won't always be that way. We are still a family of four, "The Sullivan Four" if you will, and we will be throughout eternity. And there is joy to be found in that. Yet another reminder of what Christmas is all about.