On the day after Thanksgiving 2009, I woke up very ill.
I had been just fine for Thanksgiving, having enjoyed a wonderful gathering and feast with our family here in Minnesota, so at first I thought I just had the flu.
My husband Ed became very worried, though, when over several days I proceeded to get worse, not better. I was passing out each time I tried to get up, and when he couldn't get me down our stairs to the car—I am a transplant patient on immune suppression meds, and Ed knew that he had to get me to the ER—he had to call the paramedics for help.
We were both surprised when the doctor told us that I had septicemia, and if I hadn't gotten into the hospital when I did, I might have died.
I spent the next five days in the critical care unit, not remembering much of anything.
At Christmas last year, the Lord let me know that I needed to slow down; I didn't get to do my usual baking and my recovery forced me to switch gears—to look at Christmas a little differently, from the perspective of less doing, and more simply being.
Parked on the couch in my weakness, I was a little like Our Lady in her lying-in, observant and watchful of the shepherds and kings in her midst. I appreciated my family even more while I listened to them, and to the excitement in the voices of my little granddaughters as they opened up their presents. Several times that day I said a silent prayer, "Thank you, Lord." I was simply so thankful to be there with them. Being forced to slow down was one of those "inconvenient blessings" that sometimes come our way.
There were other Christmases, many years ago, where I had been forced into a passive and more humble holiday. The year I lost my sight I was in a lot of pain, and in fact had to have emergency surgery on New Year's Eve. My friend Lori called to ask if I'd had a chance to do any shopping; she offered to take my gift list and shop for me. How kind! I said that I hadn't done a thing, but would like to go with her because I had no ideas of what to get for my family.
So, on Christmas Eve, Lori took me shopping! I have never done that before, or since—it is a madhouse! We did a marathon day of shopping, and when we got home, Lori even wrapped my gifts to put under the tree for my family for me.
She had made a gift of herself, given me a thoughtful gift of her time. I have never forgotten that, and I appreciated it so much.
Another year, when I was a single parent going through a tough time, a friend from Bible Class gave me a cassette tape. She told me that I would get one each month for the next year; the tape was a recording of herself, reading from a book of daily devotions. She recorded each month of that yearly devotional for me, and again, it was a gift of time that meant so much to me. In anxious days those tapes became my lifeline. Every morning, I looked forward to her reading, which gave me enormous encouragement at a difficult time.
In Psalm 39:5 it says, "You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is a breath, even those who seem secure." That illustrates plainly why we need to slow down just a little from our daily hustle and bustle in order to really live our lives each day, and to treasure our time with our loved ones. And why time itself can be such a powerful gift for us to give each other.
This is true all year long, not only at Christmas. As we start to think about New Year's resolutions this is a good thing to remember.
I am preaching to myself, here, because I can get into the same mindless bustle as everyone else. Especially as we approach this last week in Advent, when Christmas is head-on before us and we still have so much to do, we sometimes miss the pleasure of the journey through Advent toward Christmas Day.
But I don't want to forget that lesson from last year—that time is a gift. This Christmas, I made salt dough ornaments with my little granddaughters, decorating them with washable markers. Kayla and I sang Christmas carols, laughing when we forgot the words. Elizabeth loved to color with the markers, but decorated herself more than the ornaments! The girls helped us trim our tree. Those are the memories of Christmas that we will remember long after packages are opened.
So, we need to switch gears. As any parent, or grandparent knows, the anticipation of a little one coming—and that joyful moment when baby is born—should not be rushed. Advent is like a pregnancy: toward its end there is that flurry of movement, and then . . . Christmas! He arrives—the newborn King!