I am hanging ornaments on my Christmas tree. It is the fake one I set up in the front of my home. There is another tree—a real one my family and I drove up Bent Mountain earlier in the morning to cut from Slaughter’s Christmas Tree Farm (funny name for a Christmas tree farm)–in my back living room. Superman set it up as soon as we returned home. It is waiting for me to decorate after this fake one is done.
The ornaments I hang on this tree are almost all Hallmark ornaments; most of them gifted, some collected throughout the years. There are also the ornaments I have bought on our family’s travelings. There is a glossy painted wooden egg from Williamsburg I particularly fond of. Also, my miniature blue and white china plate from Monticello. I have two White House Christmas ornaments—did you know the White House commissions an official ornament every year?
I am almost done with this tree. I pick up one of the last Hallmark boxes and pull out its ornament. Tears well instantly, then spill down my cheeks. It is an ornament I bought eighteen years ago. I was seven months pregnant with my first baby. The ornament is ceramic and elegant. It is a man and his wife, dressed in Victorian style. The woman is holding a perfectly formed baby, swaddled in white. The man is standing behind her, his arms wrapped gently around her. Both are staring into the face of the babe in her arms. It is a beautiful ornament. The glow of a hope fulfilled.
I remember standing in the Hallmark store choosing that ornament, specifically because of what it represented to me—a hope fulfilled. I was filled—both literally and figuratively—with a hope not yet realized. And in my youth, I thought once I held my baby in my arms, like the woman of my ornament, all that hope would be fully realized.
The memory of my naive, eighteen-year younger self, makes me laugh, then cry a little harder. The ornament goes glassy and muddled through my tears. But one thing I see clearly: What I thought would be a hope fulfilled, was—in reality—a hope barely more than a seed at the beginning of its long, arduous journey towards fullness.
Eighteen years later, my hope seed—my baby boy—is well along the path. So far along, he is almost ready to move beyond my reach. He is a senior in high school. In six months he will graduate. In eight months, he will leave my arms—no matter how tight I hold on—and continue in his journey outside of my care.
I weep over it every time it comes to mind. I am weeping now, even as I type.
I cry for myself, because I have to let him go. I cry because I’m scared to let him go—I’m scared for him, and I’m scared for me. I’m scared he will get hurt. I’m scared I haven’t taught him well enough.
But, I also cry in thanksgiving and humility. Who am I, anyway, to be called, “Mom,” by this giant, beautiful, brown-eyed boy with a pure heart and courageous spirit?
This week, the Church begins a new year, and the first week of Advent, in which we light the Hope Candle.
As I go through my Advent devotions for this week of Hope, I keep coming face to face with the call to repentance. It seems an unlikely pairing: hope and repentance. Hope is warm and glowing. It smells of cinnamon and baking apples. It’s beautiful cursive on Christmas cards, wall art, and glass ornaments.
Repentance is skinned up, bleeding knees. It’s sackcloth and dirty head hung low in sorrow over my own yuck. It’s John the Baptizer in his camel skin clothing and honey-locust diet, proclaiming to all who would listen…
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
….and baptizing, in the river Jordan, all those who confessed their sins.
Confession. Repentance. Baptism. Hope.
In confession there is hope. In repentance there is hope. In baptism, there is hope.
Not the wall art hope. Not the ornament hope I hung on my tree eighteen years ago, either.
But rather, a repenting, baptizing–engulfing–kind of hope: hope as a seed full of promise; broken open, sprouting, growing. It is hope that keeps me on my knees as the gardener in her vegetable beds; doing her part to nurture her baby plants, for sure, but understanding it is the elements most out of her control that cause her plants to grow to their into their best, most fruitful selves.
My most powerful position for the maturing of my hope hasn’t been in standing upright gazing down into the precious face of my babe. Rather it has been—and continues to be—a position of repentance: bent low in confession, my face and hands held up to the heavens, seeking the face of the only One able and truly responsible for making my hope into His something more.
I hang the ornament on the tree; down so low I have to get on my knees to notice it well. I watch it dangle from the wire branch swaying slightly until it finds its center rest.
I see the ornament for what it is: my seed hope. I close my eyes. More tears spill over. I thank God for bringing my son from seed to flourishing plant. I confess my fears of letting him continue to grow outside my care. I repent of my forgetfulness of who’s really in charge of this whole hope thing anyway. I ask for the power of the Spirit to help me let go—well.
Then I go find my giant hulk of a son. I hug him tight. He indulges me (I think he’s getting used to my random fits of tears and hugs). He hugs me back. His sweatshirt smells of lavender soap and manhood. I am enveloped into his arms.
Engulfed by hope.