We’d owned our little white 1948 bungalow exactly one year, closing just before Christmas 2010 when I was newly pregnant. This year was our first opportunity to hang Christmas lights, and even though I wanted them hung desperately, I knew better than to push the idea.
For six weeks prior we’d been waiting for staging results. It was Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, we knew that, but no one could figure out how far it spread. The merriness of the season had been replaced with the cold chill of uncertainty and grief. So when Jonathan asked a friend to help him hang the lights—his spine too sore from a bone marrow biopsy to do it himself—I knew just how much he was craving normalcy too.
Chemotherapy started on a Friday, one week before Christmas. We hunkered down, him determined to roll with the waves of nausea, me determined to roll with his changing needs.
By Sunday night the worst of all possible scenarios happened—I, the caregiver, came down with a stomach flu. With Jonathan facing high risk of infection, he was banned to the futon while I alternated between our bedroom and the bathroom. At 2:00am, just after throwing up again, I heard Anna’s cries. She wanted to nurse. I sat at the edge of my bed sobbing. I didn’t think I had anything left in my own body to offer her or anyone.
In a state of complete surrender, I posted a short prayer to a site set-up to keep family and friends updated on Jonathan’s cancer battle. “I am sick, Jonathan is sick, we covet your prayers,” it said.
Perhaps you’ve had moments like this—moments when you’re so weak there are no words for Christ, only tears. I needed other people pleading on my behalf. What I didn’t expect was the physical help that arrived too.
At 10:00am the next morning a gentle knock at the door awakened me from a couch nap. It was Shirley, our neighbor who’d lived on the street for over 50 years. She held a Tupperware of soup and homemade banana bread. “I read that you’re sick,” she said. “Take this, and call me if you need more.”
It didn’t stop there.
Tammy called to offer help babysitting, and Kara dropped off Cajun stew on our doorstep, and Anna stopped by with medicine, and Sharon cried with me when I showed up unannounced at her house.
These small acts might seem like nothing miraculous, but what made them so was their timing. If you’re like me, this past holiday season was non-stop busy. I’m baking bread, licking envelopes, crafting cards, delivering gifts, and doing all the other crazy things we women convince ourselves “need” to get done. But, despite it being just days before Christmas, my friends placed me above their checklists. They chose to be like Mary, who sat at our Lord’s feet instead of fretting about the lights not being hung on the house, or the sugar cookies not being ready.
I will probably still write a to-do list next Christmas and in the busy times to come, but before getting presents I plan to be present. Because my friends taught me last Christmas that the best gift is a willingness to show up for people even when they don’t ask, in ways they may not even know they need.
We live in a broken world. And sometimes, a certain season is especially painful for families. Who in your life needs less of your presents and more of your presence?
By: Lesley Miller