For the first eight years of married life RPM, and I spent Christmas on the road. So when we moved back to Southern California shortly after our eighth wedding anniversary, one of the first things that crossed my mind was: “This is going to be great! I finally get to spend Christmas in my own home.”
Perhaps it was the stress and fatigue of moving a five year old and a baby, or maybe it was my “Wonder Woman” complex. Whatever the reason, I decided that I would have both Christmas Eve with RPM’s parents and Christmas Day with my extended family at my house. It was going to be the perfect Christmas.
Both money and time were tight that year but I worked hard to stretch both. I came up with a plan that started even before Thanksgiving that allowed me to spread out my gift buying, decorating, baking, and wrapping so that I could really enjoy the season. And for once everything went according to plan. That is until Monday, December 22nd.
Monday morning I woke up with a fever, chills and a terrible cough. RPM was off that day and took care of the kids while I took cold medicine and tried to sleep. Unfortunately my sleep seemed to be constantly interrupted by the phone ringing off the hook. In the back of my mind I knew that wasn’t normal, and that something must be wrong. But I was too sick to care.
Early in the evening I finally managed to make it into the kitchen. I knew from the look on RPM’s face that there was a problem. He gently explained that all the phone calls we’d been receiving were from people from our former church. My best friend’s daughter, (my own daughter’s best friend) had been having some problems. They suspected a brain tumor. Tests were being run. My friend would be calling as soon as they got the results.
A few hours later the call came. It was a brain tumor. They weren’t sure what kind. They would be going to San Francisco for more tests and would call on Wednesday, Christmas Eve with the results. I was devastated.
The next day my daughter came down with the flu. I spent a couple of hours in the doctor’s juggling a sick child and a tired baby. On Wednesday (Christmas Eve) my 11 month old woke up crying. Santa had decided to give him a couple of teeth for Christmas and he was miserable. I was still tired and weak, my daughter was sick, and my son was fussy. My in-laws showed up three hours early, just as I had gotten the kids to sleep and I was trying to lay down for a nap. Most importantly my heart was heavy as I prayed for my friend and her dear daughter. Not quite the day I’d had in mind.
It wasn’t until we sat down to open gifts with RPM’s folks that the call came. The news was not good. Cancer. Eighteen months at most to live. She would be lucky to see her sixth birthday. My spirit was crushed. My perfect Christmas had turned into a bad dream.
For my birthday this year a dear friend gave me Liz Curtis Higgs new book The Women of Christmas. It’s about Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna. As I’ve been reading it I was reminded that the very first Christmas didn’t go as planned for hardly anyone we read about in the real Christmas story. Mary didn’t plan on being pregnant before her official wedding. Joseph didn’t plan on marrying a pregnant bride. Elizabeth didn’t plan on being barren for all of those years. Anna didn’t plan on losing her husband at a young age and spending most of her life in the temple. The shepherds didn’t plan on seeing an angel. The wise men most certainly didn’t plan on finding a “king” in a stable. But God did. His plan was not man’s plan. But it was the best plan.
As we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth, I pray that all of you will once again be reminded that it’s not how the celebration goes, but Who we celebrate that really matters.
Whether you are at home, or on the road. Whether you are with family or on your own. Whether you get what you want for Christmas or find yourself in the return line, God has a plan. A plan just for you. A plan of love that was put into place on that first Christmas.
Thirteen months after that imperfect Christmas a beautiful six year old got to run into the arms of Jesus. I still think about her every year at this time. Someday I will see her again and, along with others I’ve lost, I will have the joy of celebrating a perfect Christmas around the throne of God. Until then I’ll just have to accept life and Christmas in an imperfect world.