‘Tis a Gift to Be Simple

Christmas and New Years have long felt like a balance between endings and beginnings. The places where things are brought down to their very simplist of forms. Firsts and lasts. This year it felt especially stretched between the two extremes.

In October we lost a family member in a most unexpected way. In her sleep. At the edge of her birthday weekend. Just a few years older than me. The shock led into how hard the firsts without Jennifer would be. The first being that her passing was a day before her birthday. We shared Birthday cake together. Salted with some tears and sweetened by unexpected moments of laugher as her memory was shared.

I have also become aware of people who are anticipating the bittersweet of several possible last Christmas’ together. for example, a mom recently entering hospice care. A young man, a Marine, young husband and soon to be first-time father who has been told his cancer has advanced beyond the currently available treatments. Heart breaking.

21 years ago I was in a hospital on bed rest. I was praying my Valentines baby would wait. I also felt disconnected as I would be celebrating Christmas there and not having a traditional Christmas Eve with my husband and young daughter. It was a forced time of being still. Learning to focus on what was most important (healthy baby). I will also never forget the sweet nurse on the night shift who gently calmed my fears by her words and very presence in the dark of that night.

Fast Forward to this year.

We were looking forward to another year of firsts- of sorts. Our older daughter and her husband were now home for good after completing 4 years in the Marines. Our younger daughter was also going to be home from college along with her boyfriend.

A new chapter. Everyone around but also balancing between our home and their significant others’ families. Both ended up away for Thanksgiving. It was bittersweet. Hard to not have them here but we were grateful they are welcomed by others who love and care for them. Christmas we would all be together. Lots of laughter, fun and late nights.

This year for some reason brought me back to our Christmas 4 years ago.

We were together- a family of 4. We had decided to not travel about that Christmas. To just simplify. I remember the deep intentionality of that Christmas. We all savored every single moment. I was deep in the trenches with my cancer treatment. Still wondering if it would all be worth it. Too early to see marked response yet in far enough to have lost my hair and energy. Pat was maybe 6 weeks out from his horrible hand injury. Our older daughter was home on leave. We huddled together. We attended church that evening and Pat actually played guitar on the worship team. It was miraculous as we weren’t sure he’d ever be able to play again. How beautiful that moment- seeing him up there. Later as Each gift was exchanged there came more tears. All of us silently wondering if this would be the last for me.

The question was posed recently- “what was your favorite Christmas”. I think I may have caught the person off guard by listing this one in particular. But it was such sweet intentionality. It was being present. It was boiled down to its most basic of components.

It felt like how Christmas was intended. Focused. Intentional. Gratitude. Awe. Love. No wrapping paper could ever contain the gift of that day.This year, As we navigated our new season together, I am grateful. For another Christmas. Another chance to worship and celebrate together. I am also grateful for the hard Christmas of four years ago and the changes it made in our hearts. I pray that whatever your Christmas looked like it held the weight of love that is carried well. The love shared today as well as the love held close in our memories of Christmas’ passed. Love that sustains us through whatever this next year may hold.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
 ‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

‘Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return,
‘Tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn,
And when we expect of others what we try to live each day,
Then we’ll all live together and we’ll all learn to say,

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
  ‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

‘Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend to be,
‘Tis the gift to think of others not to only think of “me”,
And when we hear what others really think and really feel,
Then we’ll all live together with a love that is real.

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