God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. -Hebrews 6:10
The story of the first Christmas teaches us about a number of things: God’s ability to use people the world considers unworthy, His love and forgiveness, and the power of those God uses. Joseph and Mary, both young and poor, depended on strangers’ kindness to help them reach Bethlehem and provide what meager birthplace they could for Christ. I have praised God over and over since the start of my journey for the kindness of those around me, strangers or not. My family knows God can truly use anyone, but I am blessed to be surrounded by the Body of Christ, who pray continually and worship Him beside me, so that I am living by His side through this.
The week before my surgery, two family friends were coming over for a planning session with my mother. These sweet women, gifts from God and caretakers to those around them, had taken up the responsibility (read: massive undertaking) of coordinating the help our community wanted to give us: the meal drop-off’s, the care packages, the offers of extra help getting my brother to school. Having just awoke from my long winter’s nap, of which there were many when I was on my pre-surgery medication, my mother encouraged me to stay on the couch as she went to the door. Moments later, she backtracked on her initial offer, and hurriedly called me to the entryway. I lazily sidled to the front, only to find both myself and her in tears moments later at who stood greeting us. Over fifty people stood on our steps and front lawn, spilling out into the street when there was no more room in our yard to hold them all. Teachers from my mother’s school, boys from my brother’s former high school gymnastics team, scouts and parents from Troop 989; all stood ready to face this with us. I would attempt to explain the joy and power of the Spirit that welled up in me at that moment, the security of knowing I could surely face this with a body of Christ like this surrounding me, but there are no words to describe it. We were called to the center of the circle so the crowd of believers could pray over us, and hands were placed, one after another after another, onto our shoulders. The power of feeling Christ around you, of physically feeling each and every hand on your shoulders as you are prayed over, is unspeakable. It fills you with the kind of fortified and immovable strength that makes you think you could move mountains, if God so willed it. I made it my mission to hug and thank each person there that night; some were faces I had known for years, some I had never met before. Regardless of the familiarity of a face: ages old or completely unknown, the love was the same from each embrace to the next. They are each the body of Christ, ready to lift me up in this, and gifts from God. That night lifted me higher and closer to God than perhaps ever before in my life, left me holding on to Him and ready to face the days ahead. The message of the night was clear. There is a battle ahead, but God has given me an earthly army in the body of Christ to hold me close to Him when I am fearful. They replenish my soul when I am weary. They give me strength when I am faint.
Two weeks after surgery, my mom got a text from close family friends. They said they were coming over for dinner, no negotiating, and asked where they should bring dinner from. Let me take a moment, here, to thank each family, friend, and teacher who has brought my family dinner. You don’t understand, until you’re in this situation, how much effort it takes to prepare and cook a meal. My parents work all day and come home to their second job: me. Add to that the fact that my mother was sleeping in my room up to two weeks after surgery for fear I would have another syncopal episode, and you get the picture. She was exhausted. Your meals truly were a blessing. They were one less thing my parents had to worry about, and one more hour we could spend as a family, thanking God we are still together and laughing with one another. Thank you.
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” ~Luke 6:38
The night Mr. Mike and Ms. Tena offered to bring us dinner the choice of “where from”, of course, fell to me. As the “sick person” of the family, I get to choose where we eat now pretty consistently. As someone who could never decide where to eat before my surgery (which has only made my indecision worse), I am not thrilled by this. This night in particular, however, the decision was an easy one. Steroids are crazy things, and the only thing I’d been constantly craving since surgery was food that was greasy and devoid of nutritional value, which paired well with the “no exercising” orders from my Occupational Therapist. This led to our formal dining room filled with people, gathered around the gleaming mahogany of our beautiful table, a wedding gift of my parents’. My mother’s linen Poinsettia Christmas tablecloth was already laid out across it in preparation for the Christmas Eve festivities to come. And on top of that? Styrofoam plates laden with the cheapest, greasiest, most delicious fast-food chicken you can find in the South. Or anywhere, since it is a well-known fact the South’s offerings of fried chicken are better than that of the North. Mashed potatoes, gravy, and fries made our plates bend under the weight of the food, and the room resonated with laughter. Ms. Tena and Mr. Mike, I can’t thank you enough for that. Your visit filled me with so much joy and strength. Looking around the room for a moment, my parents weren’t remembering hospital visits, or medication times, or researching variations of gene mutations that affect types of chemo needed; they were enjoying the company and conversation, with joyful hearts and eyes teary from laughter. It was a blessing and a strength, and I will never be able to describe the gift from God you were to my family that night, or Christmas Eve, or each night you have been there throughout this journey.
I have always loved the holidays, in part, because of the people. Even those I don’t know bring me that holiday warmth I’ve written about. Thousands upon thousands of adults, of different backgrounds and views, work tirelessly each year towards one goal: to keep Santa alive in the hearts of children. Much closer to my heart, however, are the people who pass in and out of our house over the course of these two months. The friends, family, and community members who bring with them blessings of gifts, prayers, and joyful spirits. John 3:16 explains that God gave us the gift of eternal life through His Son. With Him came the gift of the Holy Spirit, then the body of Christ. Each year at Christmas, we seek to be more like Him by giving of ourselves, as the body of Christ filled with the Holy Spirit, to others. So often this is overshadowed by the shine and material promises of the presents lying patient under the tree, but this Christmas has been different, for many reasons. I am constantly reminded of the true gift through the believers around me: in them and of them. You are letting His light shine through you, and I praise God He has blessed me with such a strong community of believers, especially around the holidays, to fill my home and my family’s hearts with love, joy, and blessings. You are becoming more like Him every day, leaving us awash in His light as we stand, facing the path God has created for me, with your hands on our shoulders.
Christmas may be past; but just as God’s gift to us lasts, so do the effects of your kindness and prayers. You offer a testimony with each act of faith and assistance to us.