It is not easy having a loved one in the hospital over the holidays. Everyone all around you in people’s homes, in the stores and malls, at church, are all in a festive mood and you feel so isolated, alone in your anxiety and grief. That’s how I felt during our son’s first Christmas. He was in the hospital again for the 2nd heart surgery to repair more congenital defects in his heart. The first surgery had been over Thanksgiving and had been a success – so much so that the cardiologist had hoped Joshua would begin to gain sufficient weight for the next surgery, an open-heart procedure this time – much riskier than the first. However, Josh was gaining very little weight, even though he was eating like a horse. Doctors were more concerned now with his high chances of developing pneumonia, common with heart patients with congestive heart failure. It being winter made the doctors even more concerned. Therefore, though they do not like to perform open-heart surgery on a baby so tiny, they decided the possible benefits outweighed the risks. So, back in hospital he went, and now it was Christmas time.
I was definitely feeling sorry for myself that Christmas season. I mean one’s baby’s first Christmas is supposed to be a joyous time, not a time of grief and worry! I was making daily trips to the hospital and spending most of the days there, only coming home to prepare meals. Chip came daily too. I cried a lot. I clearly remember one prayer time telling God that I desperately needed to feel something normal in this Christmas season – something, anything, to make it even a tad festive. I badly needed some sort of normalcy. I decided that a Christmas tree to look at when I got home from the hospital for the night would help. So, I actually asked God for a Christmas tree (talk about feeling silly about a prayer request!).
We began to look in the stores for a tree. Yikes! Too expensive! Ok, let’s try a small tree. None available (it was too late in the season). A real tree? Also too expensive. So, what to do? We just couldn’t find a suitable, affordable tree on our missionary budget. I felt even sadder.
One Sunday evening (back in the days when churches still had Sunday evening services) we had been in the service and came outside to a winter fairy land. While we were in the sanctuary, it had snowed considerably, and the roads were slick. The home we were staying in was on the top of a high hill, with a steep driveway, so we had to take a back way home, which was much longer, more winding, but with a more gradual incline. As we twisted and turned on the tiny dirt track in the dark, near the house, my eye caught a gleam in the headlights as we made a hairpin turn. What was that? It looked like tinsel. But why would anyone have discarded a tree before Christmas? Nevertheless, it had sure looked like an abandoned Christmas tree out the corner of my eye. I decided to check it out in the morning.
Next day, before going to the hospital, I trekked outside in the general direction where I had seen the gleam in our headlights the night before, our car’s tracks having been covered in the night. I wandered around (keeping the house in sight so as not to get lost) and there it was, lying forlornly in the snow – a table sized, ugly as sin Christmas tree! It was covered with soot, had gobs of ancient tinsel all over it, and was rather beat up as well (no wonder it had been discarded). But I had my prize, my Christmas gift from God.
I dragged the bedraggled tree home through the snow (didn’t want to carry the filthy thing in my arms), put it in the bathtub and gave it a good bath, removing most of the soot. It started to look better. I removed all the gross tinsel and washed it again. I found the limbs, made of heavy wire could be bent and I reshaped the branches. When I was done, it looked like a tree. In fact, I was surprised at how realistic it looked. We bought lights and a few decorations to hang on our Christmas tree. It was the most beautiful tree I’d ever seen – because that tree was a lesson to me. That tree taught me that no request or need is too great, nor too small for God. He loves His children deeply and gives us what we need. He knew I needed something that felt normal in my life in that time of crisis and was pleased to give me the desire of my heart. We still have that Christmas tree to this day, 36 years later! But that was not the only gift God gave me that Christmas…