Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas Message

A Christmas Message

Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father . . . (James 1: 17)

It had been a tough night to fall asleep, thunder and lightening had filled the night sky, and the wind and rain had pounded the windows all night long! As morning dawned, I was a bit surprised by the sunshine that was pushing through the clouds, blue skies seeming to take over from the storms of the night before. A little tired, I headed out to the driveway, picking up my newspaper. With my pajamas and a winter coat on, I was so surprised to realize that it was actually a little warm out! With only a few days left before Christmas, it really was strange - this weather we were having!

As I made breakfast that morning, and put together Ted’s lunch, I thought about the day before me. With the weather so nice, I wondered about taking my mom outside for a walk. “She would love it” I told Ted, as we sat at the table that morning. As he got ready to leave, he hugged me close, and kissed me goodbye, telling me he hoped I had a good visit with my mom. As I waved goodbye to him, I couldn’t help but feel a little sadness inside of me. This year was so different from last Christmas. Not with just the weather - but with my mom. She had changed over these past few months, and I never quite knew what she would be like when I visited. As I started driving north to Massachusetts that morning, my mind seemed to wander. Other Christmases and holidays seemed to fill my mind - times of wonderful joy - and even great sadness - seemed to fill my being . . .

and every perfect gift - is from above . . .

Ted and I had been engaged for about 2 months when we planned the trip to Pennsylvania. Ted was going to introduce me to his family. I have to admit I was more than a little nervous, driving such a long distance, and meeting all his family for the very first time. We planned the trip to coincide with Thanksgiving. As we headed out early that morning, a brisk wind was blowing and flurries were in the air. I found myself praying very hard that our trip would be safe - and good. But as the miles went by, the snow picked up, and my stomach seemed to be doing flip-flops. Before I knew it, we were in a snow storm, stopping at every rest stop we could find - so I could be sick! It sure didn’t seem like a safe and good trip!

When we had driven about ¾’s of the way, my stomach seemed to settle down. That’s when I started to really pay attention to the road ahead, and the white-out we seemed to be in. We drove for miles, seeing cars and trucks on the side of the road - falling victim to the awful storm. As we continued to drive, we somehow found a plow truck to follow behind. My little Subaru seeming to handle the road better than I even thought it would. Ted drove the entire way, seeming not to worry - chatting and listening to music as we went. We prayed at times, and shared stories and laughter - as we drove into the night. I heard stories of Ted’s Grandma and Grandpa, and all that they did to help their son raise his children. I heard about going fishing with Grandpa, and watching Grandma bake. I think I learned even more about my soon-to-be husband on that drive, than in the months we had been courting.

As we finally got close to Ted’s hometown, we stopped to call his grandma’s house. That’s when we heard the news! Grandpa had suffered a stroke that day, and was in the hospital. As I looked over at Ted, I could feel his heart - and the pain and worry that was now there. We decided to make a trip to see Grandpa before heading to our hotel. With snow falling all around the car, the silence that filled the air - seemed to say so much!

That night, I met Ted’s Grandpa for the very first time. He was laying in a hospital bed, unable to speak. He had I.V’s in his arms, and he looked very sick. Holding Ted’s hand, we walked quietly toward the bed. As we drew closer, Grandpa’s eyes seemed to open and then flicker with a look of surprise. Ted took his Grandfather’s hand and held it, as he spoke. His Grandpa’s eyes seemed to lock on to Ted’s, and I could see the love he had for Ted - right there in his eyes. Then Ted turned toward me, telling his grandfather how much he loved me, and that we were getting married. As I stepped a little closer, I quietly told this man how much I loved his grandson. I told him that I believed Ted had learned to be the man he was - from him! Then I held his hand, telling him how glad I was to meet him. As I looked into his eyes - I saw tears slowly rolling down his cheeks. He looked at me with such a look of love, that I started to cry. At that moment, it seemed that time had stopped - and I had been given this gift of total love and acceptance - from the man who truly helped to form my husband.

every perfect gift - is from above, coming down from the Father . . .

That Thanksgiving was like none I had been part of, or ever will be part of - again! There were wonderful moments of meeting Ted’s family, and awkward moments of wondering what some of them thought of me. We ate Thanksgiving dinner with Ted’s Grandma and his Dad - as well as his 2 brothers and sister - and all their families. It was loud, and somewhat scary, and wonderful - all at the same time! And then there were the visits with Grandpa. Slowly he started to get better, and I laughed as his speech started to come back, and he and Ted told stories! The memory of that visit lives on - even though Ted’s Grandma and Grandpa have since passed away . . .

There is an appointed time for everything.
And there is a time for every event under heaven - - -
(Ecclesiastes 3: 1)

As I continued to drive north, the memories kept washing over me. There were memories of my own family, and holidays spent with my mom and dad, as well as my brothers. There were Christmases with all the family, and presents everywhere under the tree. There were times when we struggled to all get together - as our families continued to grow larger. And then there was one memory that seemed to fill my being, as I remembered back to a summer cook-out, with my parents and brothers . . .

And there is a time for every event under heaven - - -
A time to give birth, and a time to die; . . .
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; . . .

(Ecclesiastes 3: 2 & 4)

It was July 4th week-end, 2008. The previous weeks and months had been difficult, as my dad’s cancer had come back full-force. Dad was in pain, and nothing seemed to help. Surgery had been scheduled for July 8th, and there was this nagging thought inside of me that maybe - - - just maybe - - - my dad wouldn’t make it home again.

So my brothers and I made plans for a cook-out. This one would be smaller, just “us”! My mom and dad, my brothers and their children, and Ted and I with our children and grandchildren. That was all we wanted there for this very special cook-out.

Now I have to admit, there were so many emotions going on inside of all of us, as we got ready for the cook-out. Each of us brought something for the food, and Ted and Robbie did all the cooking. Dad wasn’t getting around too well, so we set up all the food on the kitchen table inside of the house. The kids were going in and out, and my brothers and I spent some time talking about the “what ifs” that might be waiting before us. Mom had already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and of course the doctors didn’t know how long Dad had left to live. All of those worries should have made the party very somber. But it truly wasn’t. There was laughter everywhere, and we found ourselves telling stories of our lives growing up in that very home. There were funny stories of our own children, and the laughter brought tears rolling down my eyes. I guess it was about that time, when we were all sitting around the living room sharing stories - that my mom and dad’s pastor decided to pay a visit to their home. My brother Wayne had just told us a story that had literally made me laugh so hard I thought I would never catch my breath. When the doorbell rang, there stood this somber, tall man - waiting to minister to his very sick parishioners. What he found - was a family that was sharing so much joy in being together in that moment.

A time to give birth, and a time to die; . . .
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn; and a time to dance.

My dad went into the hospital for surgery - and was never able to go back home again. He died October 13, 2008. In the days leading up to his death, my dad was in and out of a coma. During that time, my brothers and I spent time with him. On that very last day, we promised my dad that we would take care of our mom. He slipped away, soon after . . .

There is an appointed time for everything.

As I drove north to Massachusetts, it was that promise that we made to our dad that ran through my head. For the past few years, mom has been slowly slipping into the disease that is called Alzheimer’s. During that time, I have watched her forget so much of the life that was our family and our past. But also during that time, I have spent moments of laughter and wonderment - with the person who my mom is becoming. For mom, so many things are a surprise! Watching birds in a tree, seeing the trees in bloom, and even the moments when she sees me for the first time that day. So many of those times are pure joy!

With Christmas only a few days away, I wondered what this year would be like for my mom. Mom had been getting worse over the past few weeks, and I had spent many hours talking with social workers, nurses, and psychologists about what was best for my mother. The decision was made that she should stay in the nursing home during the holidays. She seemed more stable in the surroundings, and there was a worry about her falling as well. Mom’s balance was being affected. I didn’t want to keep mom in the nursing home during Christmas - but I didn’t have a choice. In fact, I cried when I realized that I couldn’t take her out on Christmas Eve. But mom didn’t always know me, and she was not always stable. And so as I headed into the nursing home this beautiful, sunny December day - I wondered what mom would be like that morning . . .

and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father . . .

As I got off the elevator and pushed the button that would let me onto the floor, I spotted mom’s nurse at the desk. She waved and told me that mom was down in the activities room. “Do you think I can take mom outside for a walk?” I asked her. “Sure!” she told me, and so I headed to find my mother. She was sitting with a few other ladies, looking through a magazine that was in front of her. “Hi!” she said, getting up and hugging me. “Did you see my room?” She asked. I hadn’t, and so she told me all about how her room was a big mess. As we walked down the hall, she held on to my hand. We stopped at her room, and that’s when I saw that it was her turn to have her room cleaned from top to bottom. “That’s OK mom, let’s go for a walk”.

That day we walked around the grounds a few times. We looked at trees and bushes, and even stopped to chat with a man working on the heating system. Mom was so happy and upbeat, she was having one of her really good days. She asked about the family, and even followed along with some of the conversation. As we sat in the little gazebo, mom started to tell me about one of her friends that lived down the hall from her. “She isn’t herself any more” she told me. I just sat listening as my mom told me how her “little friend” (as she called her) had somehow changed - and she didn’t know how to do anything - any more. My heart kind of fell a little, as I realized that mom’s friend was just further along in the disease that was also attacking my mom’s brain. I didn’t say much, except to tell her that I was sorry her friend was so sick. As we got up to go inside, mom wondered about her lunch. “We’ll go upstairs in a few minutes, let’s just look at the Christmas tree.” Together we went into the main hall, looking at the decorations that were all around us. It was so beautiful in there. “Look at the little church” mom pointed out. It was a handmade little church that looked so beautiful. Together, mom and I held hands - as we took in the beauty of Christmas all around us.

As I left the floor that day, I couldn’t help but think about the little lady who “couldn’t do anything any more”. When I reached the first floor, I saw mom’s nurse Wendy in the lobby. I told her about the little lady that mom was so worried about. She told me the name of the lady, and that mom used to love to push her wheel chair and take care of her little friend. But lately, her little friend wasn’t doing so well. Then Wendy looked at me and asked: “Did you hear what your mother said about you when you went down the hall to get her coat?” I told her I hadn’t heard anything. “Your mom looked at me and said: “Isn’t my daughter Debbie pretty?” “She is so sweet too.” As I looked at Wendy, I wiped a few tears from my eyes. “Merry Christmas!” Wendy said, as she gave me a hug. “That is your Christmas gift . . ."

and every perfect gift is from above . . .

Christmas is about gifts. Not about the gifts that come in boxes and wrapped up in pretty paper; but about The Gift that God gives to each and every one of us. He gave us His Son to be our Savior - and to be the bridge between the Father in Heaven - and us here on earth. We need Him in our lives - every single day!

As we walk here on earth, there will always be moments of heartache and pain. But when we ask Jesus to walk with us - there are these amazing moments - miracles - that happen - right here on earth!

And it came about that while they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her first-born son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.
And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
(Luke 2: 6 - 11)

Merry Christmas I say to each and every one of you! Your gift is set before you! It is Jesus - and He waits for you - every single day!

God bless you and Keep you as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, who is Christ the Lord!

In His Love,

Debbie & Ted Ayers