Empty Spaces Marked Once-Filled Places

Nearly two years ago, my husband, Oscar, pleaded that our Christmas tree linger a little longer—that we keep it up until it was time for our cross-country move in February.

Our sparsely decorated tree stood all of four feet tall and boasted only a handful of South African, handcrafted, red-beaded wire ornaments. The large, world globe ornament that had been gifted to us the previous year by my sister stood out against the bristly, bare branches. It was the saddest-looking of trees.

With only one small strand of lights, its twinkling glow wasn’t grand by any measure. It was unimpressive.

The lights were peppered across the tree, and there were so few they actually drew attention to the unlit spaces rather than forming one large beacon of sparkling, anticipatory light.

There was no tree skirt, no star. It was humble. It represented our humble beginnings as we merged two lives, which were once oceans apart, together. And, those lives were about to get even humbler.

When we moved from South Africa to the DC Metro area—an area with one of the highest costs of living—we wheeled our seven suitcases into our empty apartment, wondering if our new home would be filled in time for the unplanned, but delighted-in birth of our first baby.

That year, empty spaces marked once-filled places—once-filled kitchen cabinets, closets, and rooms.

Empty spaces, where meaningful friendships were tucked, stung with goodbyes and hopeful promises of soon-to-be visits.

Empty spaces once brimming with hope lay open with unmet expectations and disappointments.

Our once boasting faith was poured out.

Our love seemed to hang on the hinges of commitment, missing the bliss we’d grown accustomed to.

The Year Without a Christmas Tree

That Christmas—there were no Christmas decorations, no lights.

Where a tree might have stood, there was a gaping space where nothing—not even furniture—had to be moved to make room.

It was the year without a Christmas tree, even a humble one. It was the year without…the year without a lot of things.

It was a year where the presence of others’ lights drew attention to all of the unlit spaces in our hearts and in our lives, just like that feeble strand of lights had done on our humble tree the year before.

We stood vulnerable, with a bone-aching emptiness.

But, that emptiness? It was filled.

Our empty pockets of provision were filled with a sustainable peace that transcends circumstance.

My bulging belly emptied out, and our arms were filled with the presence of a healthy baby girl.

Our marriage was filled with a deep intimacy and a rooted love that brought unimaginable joy, friendship, and understanding.

Our meager faith was replaced by an unshakable faith that didn’t just proclaim there is One who is bigger than all, but that was inhabited by the One who is bigger than all.

The year before, we let our Christmas tree linger, last year we lingered…

We lingered in what it meant to be truly in need, and to have all of those unlit spaces in our hearts and lives filled with something more sustainable.

We didn’t have a Christmas tree, and we didn’t have a lot of tangible things, but our empty spaces were an open invitation for greater things to fill those places.

We had everything we needed because we had each other, and we had God’s presence. And, it was enough.

It turns out, the year without a Christmas tree was the best year of all, because it was then that we truly grasped the Peace and the Love that transcends a season.

Holly Mthethwa

Holly Mthethwa is the author of the Christian memoir "Hot Chocolate in June: A True Story of Loss, Love, and Restoration." She hails from the small, Midwestern town of Cozad, Nebraska, but currently resides just outside of Washington, D.C., where she lives an adventure with her husband and daugther. Holly writes regularly about faith, family, and the moments that fish-hook her heart at www.ruggedandredeemed.com.