It’s been well over a month since the familiar trill of a text message from my pastor masked a message both serious and heart troubling—a priceless friend of mine had been in an out-of-state car accident. She had a punctured lung; the ball in her shoulder was shattered to where a full shoulder replacement would be necessary.
Over the next few days, her condition grew more serious. A blood clot developed in the injured lung, which kept her oxygen levels low. I heard the news and felt that familiar cold well of fear, the kind accompanied by the draining wash of all feeling from my shoulders to my toes. Would I lose one of my best friends?
A week later, I was privileged enough to be a part of a group of warriors who prayed this recovering friend the five hours of pothole-laden roads home. I wanted nothing more than the chance to become Jesus’ hands and feet for her.
The first step was to line up church members and friends to bring hot meals to her and her husband. Within 12 hours of my emailing a request, an entire month of dates was already spoken for.
I did a double take as I scrolled down the long list on the screen before me, choking back emotions of gratitude to be a part of such a group as well as some awe at how far our church had come in learning to support the rest of the body. This was not the same church who had brought my family a single meal over the course of a six weeks period when I was on full bed rest before the birth of my twins and then an eight-week recovery period after their emergency delivery. This was a different church, one that exhibited God’s love in not merely word but also in deed.
“Look,” I pointed to my husband as my voice broke. “Look how they love!”
But how could I teach my children to love like this? How to teach them gratitude and selflessness so that these attitudes would come more easily than greed and self-centeredness, especially now that we were so close to the season that tends to afflict even usually generous children with a sudden case of the galloping gimmes?
We visited, brought soup, picked pink chrysanthemums, and shared boiled peanuts from our farm's garden, but still, there wasn’t much tangible for the children to “do” to show Jesus’ love to her.
That’s when we learned there would be no Christmas tree this year in my friend’s home. With her injuries, she wasn’t able to decorate, and besides, her family would be celebrating at others’ homes for the season. There was no need. It was ok.
I recalled those few years husband and I hadn’t put up the tree to celebrate the season. No, the decorations weren’t necessary. Christmas was a joyful season no matter the tinsel, holly, or gifts present in our home. All we needed was the true reason for our celebration—Jesus—and each other. Still, though, I remember those years as being full of heart twinges when I relived vivid memories of happy Christmases past, those complete with all the family traditions. I remember already looking forward to the next year when I would bring out the traditional ornaments from my childhood and erect the snow village.
Secretly, the children and I planned to color some decorative paper ornaments with the different names of Jesus and use them to adorn the two foot tall tree we use to mark the days of advent as we march to the Savior's birth. The tree wasn’t much, just a glimmer of too-broadly spaced red tinsel branches. It was the kind of tree that reminded you of the pitiful specimen Charlie Brown once chose, but it was always beautiful, nonetheless, when decorated with the paper images reminding us of Christ as shown from Genesis to Revelation.
This past Tuesday, my three children happily worked together on this project. My two sons were even unusually careful as they chose colors and then slowly stayed in between the lines before affixing a John Hancock on the back of each ornament and passing it to me for the cutting, taping, and string part of the project. This one was pink, because, well, my daughter thinks pink is perfect. Then came the rainbow, the LSU themed purple and gold, and the blue snowflakes that looked like ice. Didn't I like this one that looked like the scales on Rainbow Fish?
That’s when my daughter Amelia decided she wanted to let our sick friend borrow her personal tree, the tiny pink tinsel one she had been so proud to put up in her room this year for the very first time.
Was she sure? Our friend would love our red one just as well. We would simply find a branch to put in a vase and hang the advent ornaments on that. It would be fine.
She shook her head. No, she was sure. “I want to be kind,” she told me repeatedly.
I couldn't tell her no. Wasn't this what I had been asking for? What I had been trying to instill in those children of mine?
She proudly held onto the top all the way to our friend's home. "Don't worry, mommy. It won't fall over," she assured me when I turned around to check.
My three children are noisy. They don't always listen. They speak when they should be silent. They are too boisterous and impatient and grumpy and ungrateful...and flat out mean at times. In short, they are five and seven.
But sometimes, when I look at them, I catch glimpses that don't look like my little ones. Instead, they look like His hands and His feet. And for that, I give thanks.