I bought milk the other day that expires on Dec. 25th. I think that's when it hit me how close Christmas is. Well, I've got 4 days to get everything ready for Christmas and Brad has 4 days to get Daniel home. I think we'll compare ulcers via Skype. (Perhaps this can be a new tradition.) I'm sad that we've lost so much of the Christmas season without Brad and Daniel, yet know we will forever be celebrating finally having our family under one roof as soon as they get home.
Please keep praying. What happens tomorrow determines if they will be home by Christmas. We have to get Daniel's passport and get our final documents to the US Embassy tomorrow because it is the USE's last day of work before the holiday. Fortunately the Visa is issued by the US State Department and they are open through Wednesday with a half day of work on Christmas Eve. Forget Santa and the elves. We're rejoicing that the State Department's workshop is still open. I just pray they have time to process one more Visa or you'll have to send me to the Island of Misfit Toys. (I'll be the misfit version of the Jack in the Box--you know, where you turn the crank till the crazy lady pops out.)
I'm trying to get everything ready for when Daniel does come home. Kind of that nesting thing expectant moms do. I'm giddy with excitement imagining him here. This is certainly a "sunrise" moment in our lives--a time of darkness is ending and rays of light are on the horizon. It's a beautiful thing to behold.
The Christmas letter I'm sharing today is from 2003. It's about celebrating sunsets. Little did I know when I wrote this that we would experience a darkness (just weeks following) like we had never known before. But we've also learned not to be afraid of night, for through our darkest times we are never alone and it is always followed by a blessed new day.
Thanks for walking with us and praying for us on this journey.
Dear Family and Friends,
Before you read our 2003 Christmas letter, I must attach a disclaimer. I am, at present, hormonally challenged with a head cold. In my condition I should not operate heavy machinery or write holiday greetings. But unless you’re our pediatrician or a check-out clerk at Kroger, we’ve not seen you in a while. So this feeble attempt at staying in touch eases our guilt.
As I begin our latest edition of “It’s a Wonderfully Boring Life,” I want to remind you of a Christmas story that has particular significance to me this year--“The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry. It’s the one about a husband and wife who are distraught because in their poverty they weren’t able to buy a Christmas gift for their beloved. So the wife--who had long beautiful hair--cut and sold it to purchase a watch chain for her husband. And he sold his treasured watch--passed down from his father and grandfather--to buy beautiful tortoise shell hair combs that his wife had long admired. When they discovered what each had sacrificed for the other, they spent the evening in tears and laughter--because, although she had combs but no hair and he had a chain but no watch, they had a love without end.
O. Henry concludes by saying that the magi were wise men who brought gifts to the Baby Jesus. But wiser still were the husband and wife who sacrificed their greatest treasures for each other. They are worthy to be called magi.
Although we’re more likely to resemble the Three Stooges than the Three Wise Men, we’ve been blessed with many magi moments throughout the year. Here’s a bit of the love through sacrifice that we’ve been given.
*Gifts of New Life and Sustained Life*
Christmas came early for our family and we’ve enjoyed two precious gifts throughout this year. The first was the gift of new life. Last June, we found out on our eleventh wedding anniversary that we are expecting Baby #3. Although we would have been thrilled with any make or model, we were excited to find out that we’re having a boy! He is due Valentine’s Day--the day that celebrates love--but I’m hoping he’ll come a bit early on a day that celebrates an easier delivery.
The second gift was that of sustained life. September of 2002 my mom was told that she would not make it another year, but apparently her doctors didn’t factor in the power of prayer, her will to live, and the medicine that comes from hugging her grandchildren. She has endured 14 month of chemo and radiation to have more time with so many who love her. Every hair she’s lost has been replaced by a veil of courage . . . every day she’s granted is a testimony of her love and God’s grace.
Since her treatment has not been successful in slowing the growth of the bone cancer, she has decided to trust solely in the Great Physician for her treatment from here on. Although we hate the disease, we love the closeness it’s brought to our family. Thanks so much for your prayers for the magi who is my mother.
*Lessons from the Youngest*
Now I know the little girls in white dresses look completely harmless and until recently their mischief has been along the line of crayon on the wall and deodorant on the cat. Which is why on an afternoon last September I went to check on the girls playing quietly upstairs fully expecting to find them reading books and reciting Bible verses. But instead I was horrified to discover that Olivia had been playing beauty parlor with her child-sized scissors and her little sister had been the customer who now had grounds for a lawsuit. I felt as if I had walked in on a crime scene with the floor covered with golden curls that just minutes before had framed Ava’s little face. (It’s no exaggeration when I say that even the military doesn’t cut recruits hair this short--in many places I could see her scalp.)
Over the past few months we have learned that lessons can come from loss and bravery can be found wearing Strawberry Shortcake panties. Our three-year-old has shown pint-sized character as she faced a classroom of friends that she thought might laugh at her and a world of strangers who often stare and mistake her for a boy. She showed forgiveness when someone asked if she would like to cut her sister’s hair and she replied, “Oh, no, I love my sister and would never cut her beautiful hair.” She was a good sport at Halloween when she chose to dress up as Rapunzel and chuckled at the irony of the long blond wig. And she learned that there are people in her life who want to bear her burdens when I took her on a date to the salon and had them cut my hair short to match hers. (If you’re familiar with my hate/hate relationship with my Bride of Frankenstein hair, you’ll know this was less about sacrifice and more about solidarity.)
But her year hasn’t been all about hair, for she has shown us the delight in dancing through a sprinkler on a hot day, the joy of embarking on her first preschool adventure, the pride that comes from being able to write her own name. She amuses us with her non-stop commentary--we wonder how someone so small can have so many opinions. And she amazes us with her love for a baby brother she has yet to see--the mid-section of my clothes are covered in her sticky kisses and she spends much of her time talking to my tummy in her muppet-like voice: “Hey, little fella! I love you!”
Olivia, six this year, has learned about the redemption of true forgiveness. Our Edwarda Scissorhands carried out her punishment (and it was severe) without complaint. And after a month of doing chores to pay for a special doll she gave her sister as a peace offering, she asked if she could also pay for the hats and headbands Brad and I had given Ava.
She has shown empathy during the five months I had of morning, noon and night sickness. Many summer days on the way to the pool she would say, “Mom, we don’t have to go if you’re not up to it.” She has shown responsibility as a new first-grader, creativity in her crafting, and sensitivity to those needing a friend or a hug. She melts my heart with her compassion and lifts my spirits with her encouragement.
And Brad amazes me with the way he’s able to make a little girl without hair, another without teeth (Olivia is missing four), and a really big girl without a waistline feel beautiful. He should win a Noble Prize for all the tears he’s dried and broken hearts he’s mended. I know it’s been a challenge being the Lord of the Ding-a-lings in this all-female household. And for that, I would sell my hair to buy him a new battery for his watch (frizzy doesn’t fetch much).
*Lessons from the Oldest*
But one very wise magi this year was my 82 year old grandmother. Although she had many trials in her life, her faith never wavered. She’s been described as a kid with wrinkles--she lived her life with childlike wonder yet she possessed wisdom that few could match.
She was a spunky lady. Last January my extended family took her to Disney World and she even rode a rollercoaster for the first time. But what I loved the most about her is how she made every person she encountered feel special . . . how she would give the first of her time and the last dollar in her purse to anyone who needed it.
Last May, she went to be with Jesus. We were shocked by the news because she hadn’t been sick. She still had a full schedule of potluck suppers and Bible studies and even had her bags packed to visit us the coming weekend. But the way they found her was no surprise. The director of her assisted living community went to check on her when she missed a gathering. They found her kneeling by her bed in prayer with her Bible open. Apparently she was in the presence of the Almighty and was ready to be with Him for eternity.
She had logged a lot of miles on those knees praying for her husband, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and many more who called her friend. In every place she lived, you’d find indentations in the carpet from where her knees had been. In one house, the marks were left by a window that she’d open when she prayed because she thought that perhaps God could hear her better.
After the funeral, family gathered at her apartment to share memories and take any items that had sentimental value. No one seemed to want her old bed, except for me. For it wasn’t just her bed . . . it had been her altar.
*Kneeling at the Altar*
We brought it home, painted it white, and put it in Olivia’s room. She wanted so badly to have something that would make her feel close to her dear great-grandmother. I explained to her the significance of the bed. I told her the story of a spiritual giant disguised as a little old lady. I told her about the legacy of a prayer warrior and the marks she left on the carpet.
The first night the girls slept in that bed (Ava often sleeps in it, too) and we were going about our hurried routine of bathtime, putting on Pjs, and brushing teeth. Olivia’s little voice reminded us to stop and kneel by the bed with, “Mom, I want to make marks in the carpet, too.”
So at night we kneel, all four and a half of us, and say our prayers. Sometimes the girls’ prayers are funny, sometimes poignant, . . . always heartfelt. And on those nights that I can’t sleep, I tip-toe into that pink room and look at what has been laid on the altar (and this may be the only altar with a protective covering in case of bed-wetting). There lay security blankets, an assortment of dolls and stuffed animals, and two of my greatest blessings . . . those little girls.
How easy it is to unload my burdens onto this altar. Like on those days when my little one mourned the loss of her hair begging, “Mommy, can you put the curls back?” Or when we have gotten news that the cancer can’t be treated. Or when we’ve been told that our loved one has died. But how difficult it is to lay my security blankets, my most treasured possessions, and the ones I love on that altar. The sacrifice is too great . . . the gift too costly . . . that is until I remember a greater love of a Baby in a manger and a Savior on a cross.
As I looked through photos from the past year, I came across this one of the girls on the beach.
We were vacationing with my parents and sister and her family. Although my grandmother’s absence was difficult, we seemed to feel her presence. And as we saw a glorious sunset each night, we felt Grandmother Little must have had some input on this spectacular display.
The evening this photo was taken was our last at the beach--the moment clouded knowing that we might lose another member of our family by the next trip. But as my miniature magi danced in the waves, they seemed to know what I’m still trying to learn . . . that, in spite of the impending night, we should revel in the sunsets. Because just like the couple in “The Gift of the Magi,” it’s not about mourning what was lost, but celebrating the love that was found.
Our wish for you this year is that you would enjoy every sunset, make marks in your carpet, and experience the rare gift of sacrificial love. May you be worthy to be called magi, for you have certainly earned the title of friend.
With Much Love,
The Williams Family