Christmas of 1993 is etched into my memory.
My mother was a collector. For many years, she collected salt and pepper shakers. That Christmas, I had found a unique set of shakers that I bought for her Christmas gift. It was a set of fishing creels that were unlike anything she had in her collection of over 300. I was excited to give them to her.
As she was opening gifts on Christmas morning, she unwrapped another set of salt and pepper shakers someone had given her. Apparently, she was over it by that time and said out loud, “I’m so tired of getting salt and pepper shakers as Christmas presents!”
Then she picked up my gift and opened it. We all couldn’t help but laugh at the timing. Mom felt bad about what she said, but it didn’t bother me. I knew her heart and she would have never done anything intentionally to hurt my feelings or appear ungrateful.
It ended up being a funny moment, a joyful moment. A moment we joked about for years to come.
Christmas of 2012 is etched into my memory.
In November of that year, mom had major surgery on a clot in her abdomen. She had been sick for a long time, and there were moments that fall where we wondered if she would make it. Underlying all of her health issues, was the debilitating condition of rheumatoid arthritis. Each hospital stay would make it more and more difficult for mom to have any sort of mobility if and when she emerged from long-term care.
So the sight of her on the couch in our home that Christmas Day in 2012, smiling, opening gift after gift my father was lavishing upon her, was something I’ll never forget. One gift in particular was the most unlikely: a trip to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge in Walt Disney World—our family’s favorite place. The gift was introduced by my father by several small, toy animal figurines, which my mom unwrapped one by one. When she finally connected the dots, she began to cry. Not only was she physically healthy, but she was mobile enough to make such a trip. It was our own tiny Christmas miracle. Knowing where she had been just a few weeks earlier, and imagining mom and dad enjoying a vacation together in a place that’s meant so much to our family was overwhelming.
It was pure joy.
Christmas of 2019 is etched into my memory.
It was the first Christmas in my lifetime that I celebrated the birth of Christ without my mother. The one who had given me life lost hers in June of that year due to complications from a kidney stone that became infected. After all the years of struggle, her battle was finally complete. She was at home and at rest with Jesus.
My family and I gathered together, exchanging gifts as we have always done. But there was one less person to give gifts to, one less loved one opening gifts. My mom had given us the very best of gifts her whole life. She loved us and nurtured us and protected us and fought for us. She prayed for us and made us laugh and showered us with affection.
I was reminded anew of how the lack of someone's presence can feel more heavy than if they were actually there. But I realized the gifts she continually gave us while she was with us were still being felt, surrounding us, flowing through us and holding us together. In the midst of missing her and wishing she was there, I still experienced joy.
We find joy in celebrating someone who has overcome the odds to be alive. We find joy when one who might have died, lived instead. We find joy in the giving and receiving of gifts and knowing our Heavenly Father’s love towards us is such that He would only give His children good gifts.
But we also find joy in loss, knowing that even though our loved one is no longer with us, what a simple and astounding miracle it was that we ever got to share the same space, the same family, the same love. We find joy in knowing that love is stronger than death, and that love extends and sustains even through the most painful life circumstances.
Life is a gift. Love is a gift. And so is joy. May God surround you this Christmas with a renewed gratitude for life. And may you unwrap His love and His joy this season.