I love it.
I'm going to be totally honest here and tell the blogosphere that we came into this Christmas season flat broke, and not because we have been poor stewards or have been walking in disobedience, though there were lessons God needed to teach us through our flat-brokeness (I decided that was a word as I wrote it). My husband was working his tail off in a place that wasn't employee-friendly doing a job that he didn't love, and, when those two things combine with the fact that his job was 100% commission based, you can imagine that we've been struggling to get by. So, right before Thanksgiving, Eric took a new job. Unfortunately, the time period between the training for the job and actually starting the job and then getting paid for his first week in the field left us without a paycheck for 3 days shy of a month.
And it was Christmas.
Although in ideal circumstances, we would have chosen to save for Christmas gifts all year, we found ourselves in a position in which we had no cash, no plan, and no idea how we were going to make this Christmas great. Our kids didn't even make Christmas lists or ask for anything because they knew things weren't good. It was not the easiest thing to think about the possibility of having an empty tree, and since I don't believe for a second that God is in the business of disappointment, I decided not to think about it and to wait on a miracle. Some might say that I was in denial, but I was not. I was thoroughly and completely, totally, 100% counting on God to put gifts under our Christmas tree.
Why? Am I crazy, you ask? Well, I might be, but there was some reasoning behind my line of thinking.
Let me back up a little.
2012 was the worst year of my life. We spent 11 months (2 of those in 2011) wondering if my husband was going to prison for tax crimes he did not knowingly or willingly commit. Because of this, we were out of relationship with several family members who were, admittedly, at a loss of whose side to take, and, on top of that, Eric lost his job because he couldn't carry an insurance license in Ohio due to the tax crime issue. We had one month of part-time employment followed by a month of unemployment, but, since Eric was an independent agent, there were no unemployment checks gracing our mailbox.
That's enough to put anyone over the edge, don't you think?
That...is only part of the story.
We also spent the entire year of 2012 watching my mom's health go up and down on a roller-coaster, with each hill being a little lower than the last until she finally passed away on December 12, 2012. 14 days later, my Dad called because he couldn't breathe. He slipped into a coma and passed away three days later on December 29th.
And I don't want to forget to mention that, also in December, smack in between my parents' funerals, my father-in-law went to federal prison for the above mentioned tax crimes, a sentence from which the Lord graciously shielded Eric at the very last minute because the Lord knew His innocence.
Are you shaking your head yet? I bet you are. Some of you probably have had to pick your jaws off the floor. If you know us at all and have not yet heard this story, your reaction is probably very similar to everyone who has already heard it. "She has to be exagerating!" "This can't be real."
I thought those exact words many times, and there were certainly days when all I wanted to do was go to bed because there was solace and escape in sleeping.
You can imagine that there were moments when I found it hard to breathe, impossible to think, when I wasn't sure I was capable of putting my feet on the floor in the morning or crawling off the couch, but the Lord carried me through it all. Federal courtrooms, emergency rooms, weeks of hospital wards, needles, chemotherapy, visits with federal officers, that early morning phone call from Dad saying Mom was gone, and holding Daddy's hand as he breathed his final breath...
I did it, not because I am someone especially strong because what I learned about myself is that I am weak. So very, very weak. I did what I had to do because, in my opinion, there was no other choice. I would love to tell you I did it with grace, but I can't say that. There was sometimes yelling, tears, falling apart. There were words said that should not have been said to the people I love most. I did not always handle it all with grace.
I remember my entire body aching from the stress of it all, feeling like my feet literally weighed 50 pounds as I stepped into the hospital parking lot to visit with my mother as she suffered terribly.
And December was the worst month ever. December, my favorite month! The month of music and happiness and joy and lights and Jesus!!!
So, knowing that God always knows what we need, and knowing in my heart what my children needed this month, I knew there would be happiness, joy, and, yes, even gifts. Somehow, I knew God would put gifts under the tree.
And He did.
But before that, as I have said in previous posts, He gave me joy in the journey of Christmas this month. He gave my whole family joy this Christmas. There were a few rough days when we approached that December 12th anniversary, but we pushed through it. And today? Today is the December 29th anniversary, the day my daddy breathed his last. I didn't know how I would handle this day. It is the last of the days I felt like I would have to survive this year. For that, I am thankful, but I am also thankful that I am not a mess. I am not falling apart.
There is a part of me that wants to remember those moments, holding Daddy's hand, stroking his arm as he lay almost lifeless in the critical care unit.
Because God brought me through it. Because those were my last moments with my dad. Because it was a privilege to be the one at his side in that moment. An impossibly painful privilege, but a privilege, no less.
I felt God there with me even though I knew in my heart that my daddy was gone long before he stopped breathing.
Daddy loved Christmas. So did Mom.
I sometimes wonder if Christmas even registers on the radar in heaven. God definitely placed emphasis on feasts and celebration and remembrance in the Bible, so I want to think that Jesus coming to earth is something worth remembering there too. What we make of Christmas, the gifts, carols, decorations, the television specials, and the dreaded commercialization, are not things that God probably cares too much about, but there is something to be said for God caring because He knows that we care. Afterall, He cares for us, does He not?
Somewhere around mid-month, I finally had my kids make Christmas lists because, when someone asked me what they wanted, I had no idea how to answer them. None. My kids are not exposed to a lot of media advertising, and they are not by nature "I want that" kind of kids. The next day, someone else called and said, "So tell me what your kids want for Christmas."
And then she went shopping with some friends, people we don't even know!
That's right. God put gifts under our Christmas tree.
And God didn't stop there. We were given the opportunity to shop for our kids with gift cards that were given to us.
And we were given the opportunity to pay several bills, put gas in our van, and buy groceries. Remember that there was no paycheck for most of a month, and, still, our needs were met.
We even had enough to fix our very broken down van when the alternator went out.
And we were given another super-duper awesomely spectacular Christmas gift surprise which I will blog about in a seperate post because it was so great.
In the end, we spent very, very little on our kids compared to what most households spend on their children. Under our tree were things our kids needed, like pajama pants, slippers, and sweatshirts. There were also fun surprises that caused their faces to light up brighter than the tree itself.
If I really broke it all down for you, you would agree with me. God abundantly blessed us far beyond anything we could have asked or imagined. Did we need gifts under our tree?
What we needed was to remember the joy of the season, not the secular "spirit of Christmas" that is regarded so highly in the movies and music of the season, but the real joy that comes in knowing that all these trees with lights and ornaments, all the houses glowing with decorations, all these community and church gatherings...they wouldn't be happening if it weren't for the Savior. He came here, to earth, for us. He didn't have to. He lived His earthly life knowing He would die a painful death for us. Can any of us truly say we have loved like that?
That is enough. Gifts under the tree don't compare to the gift in the manger and the gift on the cross.
But because God loves us so much and wanted to bless us beyond anything we imagined, because He wanted us to remember all that He has done for us, to tell His story, to share His Word, and to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He delights in us...
He gave us this gift of Christmas presents surrounding our sparkling Christmas tree.
Because He loves us, and He wanted to give us a little extra...
Merry Christmas, friends.
Merry, Joy-filled, Happy, Hope-filled Christmas!