Friday morning I took the morning off to wrap presents for Christmas. I had just finished wrapping for the morning when I heard the news about Sandy Hook Elementary. So maybe it was due to my morning activity or maybe it was my mind shielding me from considering the real weight of this tragedy but I kept thinking about the presents that will go unopened this Christmas. The presents that will sit under the tree and remain untouched throughout the day. It sounds so superficial I know, but my mind kept coming back to those presents.
This year, my three-year old son is getting a new bike for Christmas. His current bike is a hand-me-down from his older brother. He has ridden it faithfully since last summer and never complains but the truth is he’s too big for it. I can’t wait to see him on Christmas morning when he sees his brand new big bike. There is a little pouch in the front, perfect for collecting odds and ends that he’ll discover along his travels. Best of all, it will be new and it will be his. I can already imagine the joy it will bring in the months to come as he transitions out of training wheels and begs to ride farther and farther down the street.
As parents, we anticipate these moments of joy in our children. They are not limited to birthdays and Christmas and gift-giving. We hold these presents in our hearts and cannot wait for when our child will unwrap these moments of joy. They are the moments in parenting when we understand that all the nagging and whining and fighting is worth it. Those moments seem so insignificant and far away when our children are unwrapping these presents of joy: reading his first book, scoring the winning goal, showing off her prize-winning art project, opening the college acceptance letter he was waiting to receive. We then imagine them as adults unwrapping more adult-like presents: getting their first job, getting married and having kids of their own. Each moment of joy is like a present being unwrapped in our hearts.
Last week our family went to a winter carnival. At one point the five of us found ourselves riding a ferris wheel together. My husband and I sat on one side, the three kids were on the other. We got to the top of the ride and the kids were so excited. Pure joy is the only way to describe it. I will never forget my husband’s words,
“Remember this. Remember this moment. Look how happy they are.”
They had just unwrapped a moment of joy. It was kind of unplanned, the carnival was an afterthought to another activity we had just concluded. I hadn’t anticipated this little present that they would unwrap. But here we were, experiencing a moment of joy and it was wonderful. I quickly snapped a picture so that the memory of their faces would never fade in my head.
When I heard the news about Sandy Hook Elementary, I kept thinking about the parents of those students and the presents of joy they will never see their kids unwrap. My soul aches as I think of the many presents of joy belonging to those children that will remain unopened. Trophies that will never be won, trips that will never be taken, memories that will never be made. The bright futures that were lost in that tragedy. I cannot imagine that loss as a parent. My prayers are with the victims’ families, the surviving children at the school and the entire community. I’m sure the weeks and months to come will be unimaginable. No one should have to go through what those parents and kids have had to go through Friday.
Hug your children every day. Thank God for them every day. Tell them you love them every day. Every day.
And one last word of advice about those presents of joy. Don’t store all of them up waiting for the perfect moment. Give joy and give it freely.