Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison. Hebrews 13:3
Lately, I have been feeling a bit of nostalgia. Sometimes I long for the days when life was a bit more simple. When perhaps hearts were not so heavy. When the Christmas season was a little less hustle and bustle, and a little more joyous and loving. Much of the feelings that make up these feelings of nostalgia are related to the Christmases I spent with my brother.
And the Christmases I have not spent with my brother.
For many years, since he was a teen actually, my brother, Troy, has spent time in and out of courts, in and out of juvenile detention centers, and in and out of jails and prisons. For the last 10 years, there have probably been two Christmases when we did not have an empty space on the couch. A space we subconsciously reserved for him each year.
This year nostalgia has replaced these feelings of loneliness.
It started last Christmas when I took on the Angel Tree Toy Drive sponsored through Prison Fellowship. I had witnessed firsthand for years, how the justice system, a life of crime, and a family member behind bars can change the family dynamic, and break the spirits of all those affected. How it can dramatically change the life of the prisoner, not just during their sentence-but forever.
Our church bought and wrapped gifts for children of those often condemned prisoners. We ministered to their children, to their loved ones, to the incarcerated. Through a gift purchased on behalf of the parent, we were able to give family’s much like my own, hope again. Hope that one day they will spend Christmas with their mother or father. Faith that their mother or father would be forgiven for their choices. Hope that you could see in the eyes of a child as he or she opened the gift from their parent-a gift that served as a reminder that they were loved, even if there was a spot missing on their couch this year.
Hope that only comes from Christ.
“Whatever else be lost among the years, let us keep Christmas still a shining thing. Whatever doubts assail us, or what fears, let us hold close one day, remembering its poignant meaning for the hearts of men. Let us get back our childlike faith again.” -Grace Noll Crowell
While I was providing children with the message of love through Christ, through a gift, these families were also reminding me of the same message. Where emptiness may have lingered in previous years, completeness through the cherished memories of Christmases past comfort me. And as I hung the Angel Tree tags again this year, I was reminded that I could dwell on the fact that once again I would spend yet another year without my brother, or I can continue to remember him just as Hebrews 13:3 urges me to do.
So, this year nostalgia has replaced those feelings of loneliness with feelings of hope. I am on a mission to save a spot for my brother in our hearts and home, not just a subconscious spot on the couch, but a visual reminder of all the Christmases we have shared.
While I strung up pictures of Christmases past, both with and without my brother, I also used this time to share with my children (who apparently inherited my sentimentality and love of old photos) the fond memories that were captured in each picture. Christmas mornings with Mommy and Uncle Troy as kids. Collin making cookies for Santa. Another younger brother and big sis enjoying Christmas morning together.
We won’t hang these pictures to dwell on the past, or to dwell on what we already know is missing, but to honor the brother, the brother-in-law, the uncle, the son who still has a place at our Christmas table even though physically he may be somewhere else.
It’s to celebrate with the Troy we love. To celebrate without a sense of loneliness. To celebrate with the hope that someday soon, new pictures will hang from these garlands, with new memories we have created. To celebrate knowing that one day on our future Christmas mornings the empty seat on the couch will once again be occupied.
Merry Christmas, my beloved brother!