There is a sweet moment when you first wake up; a moment when your mind hasn’t caught up with your heart. It’s a moment when heartache has yet to permeate your thoughts. On Christmas morning in 1996, I wanted that moment to last forever.
I was dying.
I had been diagnosed with late stage cancer in October, and hope for my survival was in short supply. My first thought that cold Christmas morning was how I was going to celebrate my last Christmas on earth. Where was I going to get the courage to go downstairs and pretend it was Christmas as usual? I felt the heavy burden to make my last Christmas with my husband and son something meaningful and lasting. I needed to know that they would remember our last Christmas together. In stark contrast to this desire was my emotional state. I was a broken, lost, and very sick woman. As I cried bitter tears into my pillow, I begged God for the strength to give my husband and son something other than an emotional wreck on our last Christmas morning together.
As I made my way downstairs, I was immediately struck with the beauty of the family room. My husband had purchased a spectacular Christmas tree and had decorated the room. Lights were sparkling everywhere, and Christmas music was playing. The coffee was ready, making the room smell lovely and inviting. It all looked so normal, warm, and happy. This was no room for sadness. It was a room awaiting a celebration.
And then I walked in.
My eight-year-old son was jumping up and down, smiling from ear to ear …..”Santa came, Santa came!” He cried out with joy. I was struck with guilt as I realized that all he had seen in recent months was sadness; a sadness that had sucked the hope of Christmas out of his heart. It was as if he expected Christmas to be cancelled.
With tears in my eyes, I smiled and hugged them both.
Cancer doesn’t stop an eight year old from wanting presents. Nor does it stop life around the cancer patient from moving on. I said a small thank you to God for the realization that I was seeing joy on my son’s face. Joy. I saw pure, childlike joy in his eyes for the first time in months. If he can do it, I thought to myself, so can I.
My son began to rip through the stack of gifts. Loving each moment, I drank in the sight of my eight year old, feeling the sadness settle as I tried not to think about all the Christmases I was going to miss. Who would be here with him next year? Deep in my heart, I was burning with jealousy for all the people who would get to watch this amazing child grow up.
When the last gift was opened, I saw a secret look pass between my husband and son, a look that said they were up to something. It was then that I saw the little velvet box. My husband is a jewelry man; he loves to buy me little surprises. I stared at the unopened box and thought to myself, Who would buy new jewelry for a dying woman? Where will I wear a new piece of jewelry…to the hospital? What could my husband be thinking? I’m dying; why spend money on this?
I opened the card first. It was the sentimental kind of Christmas card with sweet words, which I skipped right over. I never read Hallmark’s words; I always skip to the handwritten words. All that was written in my husband’s hand was: Love, Nannie and Jay. Nannie? What? Nannie was the name we called my beloved Grandmother who had long since gone to heaven. I didn’t understand. What a very strange thing for my husband to write.
“Just open it,” he said smiling.
And so I did. Inside was a beautiful strand of pearls; pearls that I immediately recognized. These pearls had belonged to my grandmother and were given to me after her passing. I had worn them for years as a precious reminder of the woman who loved me with all her heart. But early one morning, right after my diagnosis, I was trying to fasten the antique clasp, and I broke them. In an instant, beautiful antique pearls spilled onto my bathroom floor. The necklace was completely ruined. I remember being on my hands and knees, crying as I picked up hundreds of beautiful pearls and placing them in my Grandma’s old teacup. And there the pearls had sat, on my dressing table, ruined, in the teacup. My life, and now my pearls, both completely ruined.
Without my knowledge, my husband had taken the broken pearls and had them restrung. And so the gift was from both of them. He gently lifted the pearls out of the box, came around behind me, and fastened the new clasp around my neck.
In a soft voice he whispered into my ear. “Broken things can be restored.” And he kissed me on the cheek. “God will restore you, Karen.”
Inside the gift of Christmas is a restoration only God can provide. In the weeks, months, and years that followed that Christmas, God taught me this through immense pain and suffering. God restored my heart first. And by His grace, my physical body was restored as well.
Restoration is different for everyone, and each of us has our own broken pearls.
For some, restoration comes as an unforgiving heart is released from shackles.
For another, a broken marriage is brought back to life.
For another, it is the power of God releasing someone from a lifetime of addiction.
For another, it is simply the peace that comes from the moment you finally realize that God loves you and you are not alone.
And for another, it’s the restoration that comes in Heaven when the human body is finally released from physical agony and enters the presence of God for eternity.
In my quiet prayer that Christmas night, I asked God to restore me like the pearls. And as I looked at the new clasp, I realized that when God was finished with me, I would be different. I would resemble the old me, but God would put a new song in my heart. And He did.
This is the gift of Christmas. The God of the universe becomes Emmanuel, which means God with us. And because of this, I am not alone and my sins are forgiven. I am free.
Merry Christmas……18 years later.