I’ve spent two Christmases away from home. The first time I was 33 years old and receiving chemotherapy in an isolation room in Houston’s M. D. Anderson hospital. My husband Michael was home with our four young children, and my dad flew to Houston, courtesy of Anne and Emile Bergeron, to spend Christmas Day with me. No one knew he didn’t have the money for a hotel, so thankfully his plan to sleep on the sofa in the hospital’s lobby worked out. We spent Christmas Day visiting through the glass window that sealed me in a sterile environment. I know, I know, so far it sounds sad, but hang on, it really wasn’t.
We talked, laughed, prayed, and paused as I received Christmas calls from far too many people to name. While on the phone, I watched as he either read the Bible or ate from the cookie-filled shoe box that a friend had dropped off. Although we were without the comforts of home, or the company of family and friends, we had a really great day. It was so very peaceful. I wasn’t depressed, angry, or visited by self-pity. I was alive. My family was healthy and safe, and I was secure in the knowledge of God’s infinite love and His ability to perform the miraculous.
The second time I spent Christmas outside of Louisiana was a little farther north. At the time, my daughter Elise was twelve years old and dreamed to walk the crowded streets of New York City. She had never dreamed of becoming ill. How odd that a dreaded disease would somehow give way to the fulfillment of a dream.
After bravely enduring chemotherapy treatment for lymphoma, she was contacted by the Make A Wish Foundation which grants wishes to children diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. When she shared her wish to visit New York, her father suggested Disney World instead. “Daddy,” she replied, “I’ve been there, and that’s a place you and Mom will take us again. I don’t think you’ll ever plan a trip to New York.” (Besides being brave, Elise was also very wise.)
Although we tried to imagine what it would be like, none of us were prepared for the actual adventure of New York City at Christmastime. We toured the city and marveled at the sights we had only seen in pictures and on television. As we walked to view the tree at Rockefeller Center, the young man on the side of us dropped to one knee and proposed to his very excited girlfriend. We went to the top of the Empire State Building, visited Central Park, Times Square, Fifth Avenue, saw a Broadway play, and didn’t let the freezing rain stop us from running around the Statue of Liberty. We were excited and determined to do and see as much as we could, but were unprepared for the emotions we felt as we stood at Ground Zero and re-lived the September 11th tragedy.
On Christmas Day, we sat very near to the front of the stage at Radio City Music Hall and watched the Christmas Spectacular, a show beyond our expectations, especially the conclusion with the dramatic living Nativity scene. As we exited Radio City Music Hall, it began to snow. Elise walked ahead of us, confidently navigating the crowd. Although I couldn’t speak, my heart exploded as I watched my daughter experience her dream of walking the crowded streets of New York City, and I thanked God that my wish, my prayer, my daily plea for her life, had also been granted.
This Christmas will be spent at home, with lots of people and presents and food. However, in the midst of all the activity, my heart will beat with the rhythms of peace, faith and gratitude that I learned through my two out-of-town Christmas experiences.
No matter where we are, or who we’re with, Christmas Day and every day, may we be found utterly dependent upon, and thoroughly grateful to our God Who "so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16Ronny may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org