Merry Christmas! I hope the beginning of this Christmas season has been relaxing, and that Santa was good to you this year. This Christmas was a significant one for my family, because it will be the last one that I will share with them as a single woman. Next year, I’ll be a happy newlywed, and my husband and I will be navigating the holidays for the first time as a married couple. I wrote a little bit about this last week, but I’ve had a lot more time to think about the topic over the past few days. Many of my relatives wanted to know what Andrew and I planned to do once we were married, and everyone knew that this would be the last year that I would be able to spend every major holiday with my family, even if they didn’t say it out loud. Before Thanksgiving, Andrew and I decided that this would be the last year that we would spend the holidays apart with our own families. We would begin splitting holidays once we had married, but for the time being, we would continue to go to our respective homes for the holidays. Out loud, I explained that we wanted to give our families a year to adjust to the future arrangements, but to be honest, it was just as much for me as it was for my family.
My family is very close-knit. My siblings still all live at home, and my entire family (aunts, grandparents, and cousins) all live within a few miles of my parents. When I was living at home last year, weekends were filled with family activities- Starbucks afternoons, movie nights, day trips into the city. Even now, though I live in D.C. most of the time, trips home are celebrations for the entire family. I am the first person to move away from the northern New Jersey area, and I will be the first person to marry someone from out-of-state. My family is crossing uncharted territory, and it has not always been easy.
I absolutely love my family, and this has made living in D.C. a challenge. My Jersey roots are deep, and every time I have to leave my family to return to D.C., I feel like I’m leaving a part of myself behind. My only comfort is knowing that whenever I return, that part of me will still be here, waiting for me to embrace it again. It is painful to leave this part of me behind, but at least I know that it is tucked safely in my home, this piece of my heart that is embraced and protected by my family.
I didn’t think there was anything more painful than leaving this part of me behind with my family. I eagerly anticipated every trip home, knowing that I would be whole again, albeit temporarily, but I also dreaded the day that I would have to board the bus to return to D.C. That day always seemed to come too quickly, and I was never ready for it. I thought that there could be nothing more painful than that moment of separation. I was wrong.
Last weekend, Andrew spent the night with my family before continuing his drive to Massachusetts to spend the week with his family. Even as I write this a week later, I am waiting for him to return for another night of rest before he continues on his way to D.C. tomorrow. As I stood by the door watching him drive away, I felt like a piece of me was being torn away with him. It was a new feeling, and not one that I enjoyed. Leaving Andrew had never been easy, but it was a different experience from what I felt when I had to leave my family. My family ties ran deep, so it was more painful to uproot myself every time that I returned to D.C. But as I stood by the door watching Andrew drive away, I experienced a pain that I had never felt before. He took a piece of my heart with him, but as he left, I felt none of the comfort that I associated with leaving my family. It is one thing to temporarily leave the people that you love; it is quite another to be left behind.
My family ties have been a great comfort to me, but they have also been a cause of concern. By marrying Andrew, I am consenting to several years in D.C. and then an unknown future. I cannot be sure that we will live near my family, and the thought of being separated from my family for any length of time is a painful one. I was raised in a family that was so close-knit that three generations could live in the same house, where the farthest that a son moved from his mother and father was across the street. We all attend the same church, frequent the same stores, and know all about each other’s business. Family members rarely move away, and when they do, they generally come back. I was the first person to go out of state for college and the the first to move away from New Jersey, and I will be the first to marry a non-New Jersey native. The amount of firsts that I must face can be frightening to think about.
And yet I am not so frightened to doubt my decision. Even with my worries, I have never doubted that I am supposed to spend the rest of my life with this man who is the love of my life and my best friend. As I stood by the door watching Andrew drive away, I realized something important. I am not tied to a state; I am tied to the ones that I love. For the past 25 years, that has been my family. Now I am tied to someone new, and in five months, those ties will be solidified in the bonds of marriage. We will be united until death parts us, and by joining together, I am also being joined to a new family, just as Andrew will be drawn into mine. Our families will be joined, just as Andrew and I will be.
I have always been a home-body. As far as I have ventured away from my home, I have always returned. But as I stood by the door, I realized that it’s not the house that I am bound to; it’s the people who occupy it. It’s the people that I love. I was afraid that those ties would be too strong, but I realized that new ties can be formed without destroying the old ones. Yes, they will change, but they will not be lost. As I stood by the door, I realized what it means to say that home is where the heart is. Home will always be in the hearts of the ones that we love, and the ones that love us. My home has always been in New Jersey because that is where my family has been. But my home is not really this house, with its comfy couch and my warm bed; it’s in the hearts of my parents and my siblings. And my home is with Andrew, wherever he might be. I can be at home in D.C., in Massachusetts, in New Jersey, and wherever life might lead us, because that’s where Andrew will be. That’s where my family will be. That’s where love will be.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!