What do we do with Christmas? Do we look forward to it or do we breathe a sigh of relief when it is all over and life returns to normal? I have found that, not only are people divided in their opinions about Christmas, so too are they in their celebrations of Christmas.
Christmas interrupts the normal routines of life. We can view it as a welcome relief or an intrusion with its festivities, feasting, extravaganza of decor, lavish shopping bonanza as we search for the perfect gifts, as well as the partying and spiritual worship we aspire to. Christmas has the potential to be one of the best appreciated Christian festivals. Whatever our preferred view of how to spend Christmas it is always possible for ‘out of control’ events to intrude into and affect our space. Events this year, just as so many years in the past have done, have left countries, communities, families and individuals with deep wounds and scars that will change lives forever.
A few weeks ago, I saw a film on TV based on a true story (The heart of Christmas, 2011, starring Candace Cameron Bure, Jeanne Neilson and Christopher Stone). Although I realised I would end up in tears as the story unfolded I decided that a bit of reality helps to get a few things in perspective for ourselves so the watching of it would do me good.
The opening scene portrays a very agitated and frustrated working mother, Megan, who has an important presentation to be completed for the following day. She is interrupted by her children reminding her that it is Halloween and her little boy, insisting as only children know how to do so, that he had been promised that he could go trick and treating. Big sister added her grumpy demands to be taken to see her friend’s house. Dad insists he is unable to meet any of the demands because his regular class was that night and it was important for his studies that he attended it. A very, very reluctant mother has to agree that she really is the only one free to take her children out that evening.
As they walk into the neighbourhood, the children vocalise their complaints with reminders of the things dad and mum used to have time for, for example supporting extra school activities, doing things together. I am sure you will recognise how easy it seems for a child to operate a mobile phone and at the same time adequately hold rather abrasive, accusatory conversations! Naturally, mother had all her excuses ready to counteract the accusations; she and dad were working so hard to provide for their college fees so they could have good career prospects such as doctor and lawyers. Of course, the children were not envisaging those choices of careers! What a case for slowing down to really hear what everyone was saying, to work through it, make better decisions and enjoy being family.
The heated discussion ended abruptly when they arrived on the estate which normally provided the best Halloween activities and they were stopped short by the sight of people erecting amazing Christmas decorations and lights. Upon questioning the reason for this Megan is encouraged to look up ‘Julia’s blog’ on the internet. The neighbour suggests too that Megan’s life will be changed forever if she takes up the challenge.
The reading of Julia’s blog was an inspiration to many. Megan, once she started reading the blog, could not stop. Austin and Julia’s 3-year-old son, Dax, had been diagnosed with leukaemia and a mass in his brain. Surgery, chemotherapy, two marrow transplants and the latest stem cell research at St Jude’s hospital had not arrested the leukaemia. Dax was spending his last few weeks at home. Julia’s blog of the family’s experiences, through the highs and lows, showed their determination to give their little boy as much happiness as they could while he was with them.
While she was reading Julia’s blog things came to a head with Megan and her husband. Couldn’t he see that she was far too busy to accept an invitation out to an anniversary meal? She had an important business call to take and they both agreed and justified their heavy workload with the need to provide financially for their children’s future, their lifestyle, new car and holidays. Her husband grudgingly agreed to put off the anniversary celebration.
As Megan continued to read Julia’s blog she saw a family that knew their son had only a few weeks left to live and that each day was important. She realised how her own family’s values had drifted. They no longer connected with each other or had time for each other and although they were trying to do the right thing for their family’s future they were missing the point. They were losing their family.
Even if only one person stops still enough to recognise the truth of a situation it gives the opportunity for something to break a deadlock situation. In her blog, Julia shared Psalm 90:12 - ‘Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.’ Her husband entered the room as she read this and asked if everything was alright. She answered that it wasn’t and went on to share what she was beginning to realise about their mindset and resultant lifestyle. She had learnt that each day was important and they needed to not just plan the week but learn to talk again, get involved with the children, their daughter’s school and social life, go on dates again and enjoy themselves as a couple and as a family. Above all, she said, we need to go back to church. It was an important time of readjustment for Megan’s family. It did not happen overnight but it did happen.
Whereas Megan and her husband could change their circumstances and it was in their power to do so Austin and Julia faced a different set of circumstances. They were about to lose their little boy and unless God said differently they could do nothing about it. All their hopes and dreams were built and dashed several times as they faced the pain, frustrations, disappointments and bleak outcome of every new challenge. They needed the courage to make every moment of every day count. Their days were filled with what mattered, not the irrelevant details which so easily take up our time. They wanted to enjoy and have good memories of Dax. They had offers of wonderful support and kindnesses but never assumed or took anything for granted. Sharing in and providing for family Christmas celebrations at Halloween instead of Christmas had a far-reaching effect especially for Megan’s family. Imagine Carol singers knocking on your door instead of trick and treaters. Julia told everyone of how they would always cling onto what their little boy had taught them - to ‘cherish each moment’. She encourages us all to take up the same challenge and make it ours in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. Dax passed away before Christmas leaving his parents wonderful memories of his last Family Christmas. They were able, in the words of the Serenity Prayer to have the ‘grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed. Courage to change the things which should be changed.’
Megan took up the challenge to change all that was wrong in her family as well as initiating the setting up of a trust fund in memory of Dax to support the work of St. Jude’s hospital where Dax and so many other children like him were given support and encouragement in their hour of need.