Monday, December 26, 2011

The Worst Christmas Ever (Because Not All Christmases Are Picture Perfect)

We had a wonderful Christmas this year.  Our month included a special time away for Jimmy and me which was a huge gift in and of itself!  It included lots of things that helped keep the focus of the season - caroling to older folks or those who've had a tough year with our kids and youth group students; packing shoeboxes for needy children across the world and buying/wrapping gifts for a needy family we've never met in our own community; practicing and singing songs about our Savior's birth at our church candlelight service; reading the Christmas story together; taking moments to pause and pray together to thank God for the gift of His son Jesus, and for all that we are blessed with.  It also included lots of the fun of the season - pictures of my kids and their cousin with Santa; buying and exchanging those perfect gifts for those we love; making gifts by hand to give away; baking cookies and eating extra treats; parties at school and church; Christmas movies and hot cocoa; family game nights and more.

It's been a good Christmas season.  And yesterday was a good day.

But I couldn't help remember a Christmas not too long ago that wasn't so great.  We can laugh about it now but at the time, it was a nightmare.

The year was 2006.  Christmas Eve that year fell on a Sunday.  Sundays are a obviously a big day for most pastors and their families, and Christmas Eve was always a big day for us at our church in Maryland because we would do a beautiful candlelight service attended by many in our community.  That year was no exception.

That year was also the one I had an almost 20 month old toddler and an almost 2 month old baby.  I refer to those years in my life as "The Blurry Years" - some of you out there may have experienced a few of those yourselves!  I had just started to really recover fully from my second C-section, was still nursing around the clock, and had a sweet baby with a dreadful case of acid reflux.  Madi had reflux, but hers was nothing like what we experienced with Trevor.  Poor little guy.  And poor us.  Madi was always extremely smart, but with her brightness came a will of iron as toddler.  We had our hands full.  It was a time in my life where I would count it a huge accomplishment to have everyone clean and fed and decent and happy by around lunchtime, and would often end up with a huge spit up stain on me and someone ready to be changed or fed by the time we got anywhere anyway!

Needless to say, I didn't do a whole lot of Christmas decorating that year.  I didn't even put up a tree.  We had a felt tree with magnetic ornaments that Madi enjoyed playing with, and even though I am a lover of Christmas decorating, I decided that was going to do it this time around!  Though we had two kids in a flash and our world was a little, well, blurry like I said, we were still happy and busy with life and ministry.  And we were looking forward to the Christmas Eve services.

However, one day very close to Christmas Eve Madi had a quick but very bad bout with a stomach bug that involved a huge mess to clean up in her crib.  These things happen with kids as you know, but what we did not know was that our whole family was about to go down in a major way.

It was late at night on December 23rd.  I couldn't sleep and something just didn't feel right.  Neither could Jimmy...and sometime in the wee hours of Christmas Eve we both experienced the.absolute.most.violent stomach virus either of us have ever had.  I will spare you most of the details but it was unlike anything we could compare it to or describe. And it was constant.  We were up all night long and still violently ill in the morning, so we called our parents to tell them we would not be able to come to church - and possibly beg for some help - and found out my dad (the pastor), my mom, my grandmother, and my sister-in-law had been up all night with the same thing.  It was awful.  An ambulance of paramedics had to come to my parents' house to check on my grandmother who was very weak, and my sister-in-law who had passed out twice.  I was trying to nurse poor Trev and take care of him and Madi between bouts of sickness.  Trev was throwing up all over our sheets so we were laying on beach towels at one point because we didn't have the strength to change them (lovely, I know).  I was concerned for him, not knowing if it was his dreadful reflux or if he had gotten whatever we all had, so I called the pediatrician's office.  I was trying to explain everything to the nurse on call and was literally pausing to throw up in an empty baby wipe box between sentences (gross, but true).  I remember the nurse saying, "Ma'am, you sound like you need some help."  And I remember saying, "All of my help is also sick, and there is no way I can ask anyone else to come help me because they will most likely get this too."  It was a very helpless feeling, and I was getting weaker by the second between the violence of the illness and nursing baby Trevor.

The only person unaffected in my family was my brother.  He had mercy on me and risked his own state of health to come over and drive me to the emergency room.  My mom rode over with my brother and she and Jimmy did their best to watch Madi and Trev.  I was so weak my brother wheeled me into the [absolutely packed] ER in a wheelchair.  They too had mercy on me and gave me priority (I guess I looked as bad as I felt) and though there were no open rooms (I suppose "no room in the inn" is a common theme on Christmas Eve) they gave me a cot in the hallway.  I was thankful for anything at that point, and most grateful when the anti-nausea drip they gave me knocked me out in a few seconds flat.  I was desperate for sleep, and remember being so relieved to get some that I was completely unaware of the hustle and bustle that surrounded me in the hallway.

Several hours later when I was able to keep a Sprite down they sent me home.  We somehow made it through the night and needless to say, we didn't have our usual Christmas brunch in the morning.  We didn't even drag ourselves over to my parents' house until sometime Christmas evening, and while Madi felt better and opened her gifts, the rest of us sat around all pale and weak and thankful that the ordeal was over.

We did however eat some chicken noodle soup.  And that is an interesting part of the story.

I had forgotten about this, but my mom reminded me of it last night as we were reminiscing about the disastrous Christmas of 2006.  She was carrying soiled bags out to the trash that Christmas Eve when someone came to the door.  It was a man in a red turtleneck with a white beard.  She had never seen him before (I am not making this up).  He was with a pretty little girl who he introduced as his granddaughter.  She said he had a bag in his hand and said to her, "I heard the preacher was sick."  Now, that right there is interesting and here is why.  Down here, it is common for me to hear people refer to my dad or other pastors as "the preacher."  But I had never heard that up in was always "the pastor" or in some churches "the reverend."  However, this kind stranger with a red turtleneck and white beard had somehow heard "the preacher" was sick.  In his bag were containers of chicken noodle soup from Friendly's which he said he had heard were good when you weren't feeling well.  He gave them to my mom, and walked to the driveway.  And then he drove off in a (get this) bright, shiny, vintage cherry red pickup truck.  Definitely not something you see everyday, especially in the Mid-Atlantic area.  To this day my mom believes it was either St. Nick or a true Christmas Angel!

So we ate chicken noodle soup, delivered by a white-bearded stranger in red, Christmas night.  And we gained back our strength and life went on and the kids grew up and The Blurry Years sharpened into greater focus.

I share this story for a reason.  Some of you, like us, had a very nice Christmas 2011.  But some of you may not have.  For whatever reason this Christmas may not have been merry, or bright, or healthy, or happy, or maybe just didn't live up to some expectations that were deep in your heart.  Our family has had other Christmases clouded by illnesses or cancer diagnoses, losses or other troubles.  Many have looked like a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting or Christmas card, but not all have been so.

So if this just wasn't your year, keep your chin up.  Remember, there is always next year...and the next....and the next.  Christmas faithfully shows up each year, and the Christ of Christmas is always the same no matter what our circumstances may be.  If it's been a tough year or season, it truly will pass.  There is a light shining for the heart that holds on, as the song says.  Hold on, sweet friend.  Hold on.

Much Love and Thoughts of Cherry Red Pick Up Trucks and Chicken Noodle Soup,



  1. good gracious! glad this Christmas was memorable in a good way!

  2. Wow, that had to be one to remember! How remarkable was the mystery/santa/man sent from God!? I can recall some less than perfect(!) Christmas past and it makes me thankful that this one wasn't one of them. Thanks for sharing this story...I love to know that other loving families have some crazy stories, too!!
    Blessings to you all!