Sometimes Christmases just don't pan out the way you expect them to. At all.
In Nov. of 2004, we decided to reach out to our neighbors as our birthday gift to Jesus. It was the biggest project we'd ever taken on as a family but fortunately, David's friends in the neighborhood helped us and their involvement (plus the hot chocolate afterwards) made it a fun experience.
We prayed about this project and decided to buy a bunch of quart-sized zip lock bags and pack them with A) A Christmas letter from us sharing our testimony B) A tract C) Cookies and candies. I found some baggies that were decorated with snowflakes and Santas. (This was important... Baggies are not uncommon in our neighborhood but they don't normally have Christmas decals on them... :) I typed up our family letter and then printed copies on Christmas stationery. Then with the help of David and his friends, we stuffed these baggies and prepared to deliver them.
It was an eye-opening experience but not in the way you might think. Although we did run across a few rough characters (who were actually pretty positive to our friendly overtures), most of the people we met were cautious at first, then curious to know what was in this for us. Our simple, "We just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas!" without a spiel of some sort seemed to stun them and then bring a smile to their faces. If nothing else, this helped break down barriers in our neighborhood where increasing crime had been setting up walls of fear and isolation.
We distributed almost all of the baggies before Thanksgiving but there were still about 15 houses that had not been reached. A few days before Christmas, we had a huge snowfall. I love snow and so I bundled up and headed out with a handful of baggies to deliver. Honestly, it was a joy, wading through snow that came up over the tops of my shoes - that's such a rarity in this area. As I walked, a white curtain of flakes fell soundlessly all around me and to this day, that is one of my precious Christmas memories, unmarred by what happened later. After I had Merry Christmassed my way to about 5 houses, I saw a figure walking down the hill towards me - someone who looked suspiciously like my husband! It was Phil! His light weight truck couldn't make it up the last big hill before reaching our neighborhood and so he had parked it on an empty lot and walked the rest of the way. Now, surprised to meet each other like this, we linked arms and headed home, laughing, shivering, telling our different stories about the Great Snow of Aught '4. It may sound crazy, but it was just a neat time.
A couple of days later, on Christmas Eve, I was very conscious of the fact that I still had a handful of Christmas baggies to hand out and time was running out! The snow had been melting that afternoon and the roads in front of our house looked clear except for the edges which looked wet. I was trying to decide what to do when a neighbor came over about 4 in the afternoon with some home-baked cookies for us. He was in his sixties and when I asked him if he had any problems walking to our house, he said he hadn't.
I could see that the grass was covered in crunchy snow and knew I could always get traction by walking on those areas so I headed out. Phil was at the store at the time and David was a couple of houses down the street, playing with a friend. As I drew even with the house where DAvid was, I could see that the driveway in front of me was heavily shaded and a solid sheet of thick ice still covered it. By comparison, the road looked dry in the middle and wet along the edges but not icy so I stepped off the crunchy grass and onto the pavement. It was my first encounter with black ice and hopefully my last.
My feet slipped out from under me before I could even process what was happening and I fell, catching myself with my left wrist. When I instinctively tried to stand, I got half-way up off the pavement and fell again, catching myself with the same wrist again. All of this happened within moments. After the second fall, I managed to get to my knees and as I looked up, I saw a car coming towards me. It was still about two and a half blocks away and going slow but I didn't know if they could see me clearly or, even if they did, whether they could bring the car to a halt in time.
I literally cried out to God and tried to stand again on the same black ice where I had already fallen twice. This time I made it - it had to be God helping me - and was able to walk to the house where David was playing. One of the family members put David and myself in his car and drove us to ER. I knew my arm had to be in bad shape - so bad that I was even scared to look at it; I'd never broken anything and had hoped I never would. Now, I could hardly take in what was happening. (I just don't do medical stuff well at all).
I'll always be thankful for the nurse who checked me in and got me situated in a cubicle. He kept me calm while they cut away my sweatshirt sleeve and started the examination. He also kept calling my husband for me until he got Phil - he wouldn't leave a message because he didn't want to scare Phil.
While they numbed my arm and I lay there, a thousand things went through my mind. Things like, I was doing something for God. Why would He let this happen to me? On Christmas Eve no less! Now, in retrospect, I don't even know how I could ask that, seeing as how I have Foxe's book of Martyrs on my book shelf... duhhhh. But at the time, I really struggled with that as I lay on the gurney. This just wasn't the way things were supposed to work out!!!
Of course, other thoughts like, How could I be so stupid?? came and went. And then instead of sugar plums, dollar signs (i.e. hospital bills) began to dance through my fear-filled mind as I thought about the cumulative cost of all this. And of course, I was very conscious of how this would affect David and Phil. I knew it would be hard on everyone.
I don't know if you can OD on stress and a broken wrist but I was certainly trying....
And then Phil arrived, looking so sympathetic and talking to me so tenderly, that I just felt swamped with shame for my stupidity, my arrogance and where it had landed us. He asked me why I was walking down the street and I couldn't even answer him so he didn't press the issue, for which I was grateful.
At this point, I learned that for some reason my neighbor had stayed outside in the car while David had been sitting alone in the waiting room. Again, it hit me that nothing was right!!! My focus was strictly on the negative. Then I overheard one of the young doctors who was treating me say, "Just what I want! A crushed wrist on Christmas Eve." That was my first clue that I didn't have just a simple break but I kept clinging to the hope that I had heard the young man incorrectly or that he was exaggerating. (He wasn't. I had a two-hour surgery, two incisions, and three months of physical therapy still ahead of me. But I didn't know any of that then, thankfully).
The doctors in ER wrapped my arm tightly and sent me home with a prescription. Phil got David and I to the house and then traveled 20 minutes across town on icy streets to find a pharmacy that was open on Christmas Eve.
The next day my in-laws were coming for a late Christmas lunch. I was able to get up in the a.m. but wasn't able to do much; still I felt that things weren't so bad and that with Mary Ann and Linda's help, we could manage the food. By the afternoon, I was flat on my back, rapidly revising my expectations for the day, while Phil and his sisters were in the kitchen, doing all the cooking with a can-do attitude. Their only concern was keeping the noise down so they wouldn't disturb me.
As I lay in our bedroom, I could hear muted sounds of talking coming from the kitchen and I felt totally left out. Once again, I was upset with myself and, honestly, also with God - still not having come to grips with the fact that just because I serve someone Who can walk on water, that doesn't mean He is obligated to enable me to walk on ice!
So I lay there, thinking about how it was sooo wrong to be separated from the fun and the festivities, from family, on my favorite holiday of the year, while I kept my arm elevated and hoped the pain meds would work. (They didn't... By that night, I was keeping a hot line open between myself, the ER, and anyone else who could give me tips on how to manage the pain)
As I lay there that afternoon, wallowing in this is not the way it's supposed to be!, God opened my eyes to something I'd never seen before. In that room, alone (or so it seemed to me), God suddenly broke through my self-pity. I don't know how He did it but for the first time, I understood that over 2,000 years ago, it's true that the Angels were singing in the sky... but Christ wasn't with them. And, yes, Heaven was rejoicing in God's plan... but Christ wasn't there either.
In other words, He wasn't at home in His Father's throne room, sharing in the celebrations.
Far from it. He was, as Paul wrote in Philippians 2, in the process of humbling Himself, actually emptying Himself of royal privilege, power, and possessions so that He could slip onto the scene in human form, as an infant - totally non-threatening, totally helpless. More so than I was even, by a long shot.
There in semi-darkness and solitude, I understood that my Christmas was not ruined. It was just more like the first one, like His.
That's not to say that I don't prefer the singing-angels-in-the-sky version of Christmas, which is true and real and right. But there is also the crying-in-a-feed-trough side to Christmas which is just as true and real and right.
I hope that all of my loved-ones and friends have a wonderful angels-singing-in-the-sky Christmas but for those who don't, please don't think God has forgotten you. It may be that you are closer to experiencing the first Christmas, which cost the Father and His Son deeply, than you have been at any other time in your life.