This Christmas letter is about going home! We all know, deep in our soul, without exception, death will knock on our door. We do not like to think about it, don’t plan for it, and rarely talk about it. Both of our parents have been gone for a long time. Neither of us has lost a sibling. But now death is at the door of our generation.
I lost a brother-in-law this year. We visited him monthly. We saw the hope for life turn to denial, to resignation, to acceptance, to a wish for the end. I was asked to lead his memorial service. I had known Chuck for forty years and suddenly realized I wished I knew him better. Still, what I did know about him rang true and genuine and authentic. I wished for more time. I was broken.
In September, Jan and I lost a very special friend. Donna was a nursing school friend, Jan’s roommate after graduation. Jan was with her when she gave her heart to Christ. She was Jan’s maid of honor. Donna married Ron who was a friend of mine. As a couple, we were close friends, almost soulmates, for forty-nine years. We attended their family events and they came to our weddings. We went long-distance hiking and cruises together. Donna spent time with us when Jan had her second stroke. She was a sister that I never had. After cerebral encephalitis struck her down, we visited and watched her decline. We never said goodbye. It hit us without warning. I cried.
Many have lost spouses, parents, children, tragic and shocking accidental deaths. I keep the memorial service bulletins that I attend. On average it is five funerals, four this year. In 2016 it was seven. Most of them were older. Many were anticipated. I have been disease and pain-free for my entire life. I can only now begin to appreciate how grateful I am for years of excellent health. This month I had a Lumbar Laminectomy, back surgery for spinal stenosis. Jan just had a total bilateral mastectomy for invasive duct breast cancer to be followed by chemo. Radiation may follow. We do not yet know. The prognosis for both of us is good. Medical issues, however, are now a major conversation. “I will tell you mine if you tell me yours!” We don’t even ask. We just start talking about the latest ache and pain.
Earlier this year I came home from surgery on my shoulder rotator cuff and laid low for several days, largely pain-free, but restricted, with my arm in a sling, I realized three weeks later that I had been feisty and difficult. Jan had been supportive, loving, never a complaint despite the chair I sat in was surrounded with discarded mail, used dishes, scattered food crumbs, an array of half-read books, an anathema in any other situation. I said to Jan, “I think I was slightly depressed.” Her response, “You think!” If I can’t help myself is this mild situation, what will I be like when the end of life arrives?
Jesus knew before he was born what death awaited him, yet he came to our world, not to live but to die… so we could live. He lived with purpose and gave hope to the hopeless. We want to live with the same sense of purpose and prepare ourselves to die…to live forever.
I think that is reason enough to truly enjoy and embrace this season. It is time to rejoice and be glad, to make merry, to worship, to pray, to greet, love and laugh, to celebrate with my friends and family, strangers and even enemies. It is a season of HOPE when the dark of night surrounds us. Every day is a gift… until we finally get home! MERRY CHRISTMAS!