Nothing Normal About This Christmas: Help Me Jesus
(For the many kind people who have asked: my father is responding well to chemotherapy and his prognosis for recovery is good. He and my Mom are grateful for the many people—friends and strangers alike—who continue to uphold them in prayer. I will join Bill and my kids for a week after Christmas and return back to Michigan for Dad’s next chemotherapy treatment in January.)
At 6am this morning I was at the mall buying comfy pajamas for my Mom to give my Dad for Christmas and black slacks and a darling paisley blouse for Dad to give to her. Because of the intensity surrounding my dad’s health and chemotherapy schedule, we had decided to forego exchanging gifts this year. I didn’t mind; I don’t like to shop. And truly, the sweet moments we have shared during these weeks I’ve stayed in my parents’ guestroom are far more precious than any gifts we could purchase. However, in the end Mom and Dad couldn’t give up the pleasure of surprising each other with a gift. Of course, I was the Christmas elf they chose to help them do that.
Hence, Macys at 6am. Delightfully uncrowded. “Yipee, a customer!” one salesclerk gushed when I approached her counter. “We opened at midnight,” she explained, “and we haven’t been too busy.” Each clerk I met was equally chatty, grateful I had burst into their boredom.
Now, at 7:30am, I’m at a coffee shop, waiting for Target to open so I can buy wrapping paper.
Nothing about this Christmas season has been normal. I haven’t attended a single holiday party. Didn’t write my usual Christmas blog to encourage fair trade shopping. Didn’t host my annual Christmas luncheon with Lisa, Linda, Leanne, Aliece, Christine, Mindy and Dee. I’m missing all twelve of the Christmas services at Willow Creek because they’re in Barrington, Illinois and I’m in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I didn’t attend Henry’s Kindergarten Christmas program, though I cherish the memories of Christmas programs past (at Noah’s Ark preschool and Willow Creek’s Promisetown). I’m not available to snuggle Mac to sleep while Shauna and Aaron run late night errands. I won’t wake up on Christmas morning and have a cup of coffee with my husband in our rocking chairs in front of the fireplace. (I know that makes us sound like old codgers, but seriously, few pleasures rival the combination of morning coffee, rocking chairs, and a real wood fire.)
On the other hand, I’ve gathered a collection of memories of events that would not have happened had this Christmas been more normal. Mom and Dad and I have shared hours of what Dad now calls “Doc Martin’s House Calls”—via Netflix. Doc Martin is a wacky British comedy that never ceases to launch my Dad into gales of hilarious hysteria; honestly, if I could capture the last few weeks in two words, it would be riotous laughter.
Due to my extended stay in Michigan it’s likely I’ll be around when my niece gives birth to a baby girl, my mother’s namesake. I’ve also spent more hours with my brother in the last two months than in the last twenty years. We’ve always been close, but living in different states hasn’t afforded us the casual “hangin’ out” time we’ve recently enjoyed. Yesterday, while we met with a banker to attend to business for our parents, our growing stash of inside jokes made it almost impossible to have a serious conversation. I’m not sure whether the banker appreciated our display of familial joviality, or he just thought we were rude. I choose to assume he thought we were delightful.
As the unofficial communication director for my parents, I’ve been sending out periodic health updates to their friends and extended family. This means I’ve been receiving daily responses from people like Dwight, a boy my mom used to babysit for when I was in grade school; Jeri, a missionary I visited in Ecuador when I was seventeen; Cathy, the pianist who accompanied me in high school when I performed flute solos; Missy, the daughter of the man who was my Dad’s ski buddy back when our families were young and our dads put on barefoot ski exhibits on the little inland lake where we lived. I’m in closer contact with assorted cousins and aunts and uncles than I’ve been since I moved from Michigan almost forty years ago. I’ve been blessed with great friends during the decades I’ve lived in Illinois, but that doesn’t undermine the pleasure of reconnecting with old family friends.
Dad’s medical condition has also opened the door to new people. Two days ago, I spent the day with Dad in the chemotherapy infusion room. It was a huge, comfortable room, with dozens of people in easy chairs resting or chatting quietly. The young woman seated closest to my Dad was 29; five months ago, during the birth of her third child, her doctor discovered that a cyst they thought was benign was actually malignant. After major surgery and numerous rounds of chemotherapy, her prognosis is good. “Someday,” she said with a huge smile, “I’ll tell my little girl how her birth literally saved my life!” I don’t know anyone who would choose to spend the week before Christmas in a hospital or medical center, but if that’s where life puts you, you’re likely to discover some beautiful people with inspiring stories.
And then there’s the medical staff. “You’ll love Nurse Amber,” my brother told me as he left the infusion room and I entered. He was right. I’m becoming convinced that nurses are the unsung heroes of the world.
My mom enjoys jigsaw puzzles, so I purchased a new one for us to tackle during December. Unfortunately, despite our most earnest efforts, we’ve been defeated. I know Mom hesitates to break up our half-done masterpiece and shove it back in the box, but I think it’s time to cut our losses and make the dining room table usable again. Actually, now that I get to the end of this paragraph, I’m not sure I really want to remember that blankety-blank puzzle.
To be honest, there are a number of things about this season that I’d rather not remember. Ongoing wars. Political oppression. The killing of innocents. Children in the chemotherapy room. My son’s friend, who after nearly six months in a coma remains in a twilight zone somewhere between waking and sleeping.
As I ponder grieving mothers from Congo to Connecticut to the Cancer Center, I wonder what kind of God they believe in. In fact, I wonder what kind of God I believe in. I grew up in a form of Christianity that claimed to know a lot about God. However, the longer I live and the more I see of the world, the less I think I know about God. In fact, I would say that today, December 23, 2012, I can sum up what I know about God in one word: Jesus.
What I know about Jesus is that he showed up in flesh and blood on this sphere of sorrows that we call Earth. He listened, he talked, he worked, he partied, he taught, he walked, he loved, he healed, he challenged, he encouraged, he cried. He showed up. He was Present. Yes, I know, there’s much more to say about Jesus. There is much more truth and wisdom and guidance and challenge to be drawn from his life and the expanse of his redemptive purpose. But today, as I sit in a coffee shop with a television news program looping in the corner and people dashing in and out for liquid shots of energy, this is the little truth that grips me. Jesus showed up. In our broken world. Day after day.
Jesus, I want to show up like you. In my broken world. Day after day. Please help me.