a dichotomy of boxes

A note of context: I wrote this before Christmas so it’s about Christmas, but it’s still true because there are still boxes everywhere. *shrug* Enjoy!

There are a lot of boxes in my living room right now. Some are under the tree. Wrapped and taped, and tied with twine or ribbon or that shiny ribbon-like stuff that only appears at Christmas because it’s easy to curl when you run the blade of a scissors down one side. There are also costco boxes. And diaper boxes. Hello Fresh boxes (I don’t subscribe but thank goodness my friend Michelle does: I needed those boxes.) We moved a month ago. Almost exactly, actually. I’ve unpacked just enough to find the ribbons and ribbon-like-things and to realize that we ran out of wrapping paper. And because all seasonal things were in the garage, I found the Christmas ornaments faster than I found Wuthering Heights buried in a box in the basement – which is currently a catch-all box. But the tree is up and at least half of the boxes in the room are intentionally placed under it. The other half I’m still unpacking. 

It’s a weird dichotomy. Christmas decorations are probably the single most homey thing I would name. You plug in the string lights and hang the ornaments and it creates an entire atmosphere. Old Christmas songs, hunting down scotch tape and tissue paper for a cozy gift-wrapping session on the floor of your bedroom. Hot chocolate, snowmen rolled out of sticky, misshapen snow, sitting by the fire after you come inside. The smile on your brother’s or sister’s or toddler’s face when you got a gift just right. All it takes is a tree to fill my head with happy thoughts. And a single half-empty moving box with packing paper spilling out one corner is enough to make me feel unsettled, not at home. 

I haven’t really lived through Christmas in this odd sort of tension before. Sure, I’ve moved plenty of times and celebrated Christmas on a yearly basis, as one does, but I haven’t been just-moved-in and celebrating Christmas all at once until now, and it’s unnerving. Against one wall is the tree all lit up and piled with gifts for babies and siblings and parents and friends, one big beacon of hominess topped with a sparkling gold star. Against the other wall is a box of pictures I haven’t hung and knick-knacks from the catch-all counter at our last home that I still haven’t found space for. No scotch tape; I checked. There’s a box upstairs in my daughter’s closet with all my high heels and combat boots (yes, I wear both and no, I don’t think I’m crazy. Thanks for asking.) There’s another box in the master bedroom full of bathroom things, and about fifty-eight thousand boxes in my son’s room that are all full of cars. The odd train or dinosaur tossed in for good measure. He has a toy preference, I can tell you. 

The boxes declare that we are new here. That our things are new here. That we and our things haven’t figured out how to belong yet. And if you asked me how I plan to arrange the living room, you’d agree with the boxes. I haven’t figured out how to belong in this space yet. Oh I’ve got curtains hung and there’s a certain step in the back yard that lends itself to gazing dreamily at the mountains. I have the kitchen mostly arranged, although there is some dispute about where the silverware truly belongs. But generally, we’re still new here. We’re still unpacking. We still don’t know what stories these walls are going to tell in ten years or twenty years, or in two months. The story of settling, unpacking, belonging, I hope. And until then I just look across the room at the Christmas tree. 

When I sat down this evening to ponder the types of boxes and their purposes in this house, I began to realize that this is the reality of advent. It is a dichotomy – we celebrate a God who came a long time ago, and we’re celebrating while we’re still waiting for him to come back again. God, the shining, light-filled tree that makes a home anywhere he is, and God who’s moved into the world through us, however awkwardly we do it. God who invites us to belong in His space when we couldn’t ever figure it out on our own. God who says to the half-empty boxes of our past life that the true, unboxed gift of Jesus is the one that matters most; more than the diaper box full of old pens, an empty water bottle and a half-used notebook. 

It’s true, I sometimes think if I have to look at the Hello Fresh box with its crinkly insulation one more day, I might toss it out, contents and all. But when I sit in the armchair that may or may not stay in the corner, when I sit there and look at the tree instead, there’s a sort of home-atmosphere that comes in despite everything else, silverware be damned. We’re leaving to celebrate with family in a week, and there’s no way I can unpack probably even one more box by then. But maybe that’s ok. Maybe I will sink into the tension of home and not yet, and let it remind me of the not-yet I’ll move to when this life is all said and done. Maybe a dichotomy of boxes isn’t just my unsettled new home; maybe this is the place where Jesus lives too.

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