This has been a strange Christmas season for me in a lot of ways. I’ve had my tree up since the week after Thanksgiving, the house is decorated, presents are wrapped and under the tree and I’ve made a batch of eggnog. But it has still felt a little bit like Christmas has snuck up on me when I wasn’t paying attention and I think I realized on Friday that it’s because I’ve done all the normal Christmas things without my heart really being in it as much as usual.
Some of it is that we’ve just been busier than normal with school and activities and things, but I think the heart of it is that I’ve been so sad about Jen’s cancer being back. It’s like that bruise that you forget about for a minute until you bump it again and remember it still hurts. And last Wednesday night I was in the middle of helping Caroline finish a science project (This is squarely not in my set of skills) when I received a text from Jen that she sent to several of her close friends that basically let us know that her hard news just got harder when they went to a follow-up appointment and discovered the cancer has spread to her lower back, ribs, lungs and more lymph nodes as well as more spots on her liver.
Honestly, as I read her text I didn’t even let myself process it because I knew I couldn’t without falling apart and I still had to help Caroline finish making videos showing the difference between physical and chemical changes, cook dinner and get everyone settled in for the night. So I felt tears in my eyes and then quickly compartmentalized it into “Things to Think About Later” like Scarlett O’Hara.
On Thursday morning I woke up and Jen had posted the news on her blog along with an update that she was headed to Houston to see some specialists there on Friday. Since Mimi and Bops have a house in Houston, I texted her and asked if she had a place to stay. She said they were planning to get a hotel room, but I told her Mimi and Bops would love for her to stay at their house but I would need to overnight her a key since they weren’t there. She loved this plan and I loved that I was able to do something tangible because it’s hard living five hours away and feeling like there’s not much you can do to help.
So I got the key to the Houston house from Mimi and Bops and then drove to the mail store where I paid not a small amount of money to get guaranteed delivery by 10:30 a.m. the next day. Which is why I was none to happy when Jen texted me at noon the following day to let me know the key still hadn’t arrived and they needed to get on the road in the next hour. I immediately drove to the mail store to track down the key and knew I was in trouble when the girl behind the counter typed in the tracking number and said, “I’m going to go get the lady that helped you yesterday.” This is normally not a harbinger of glad tidings.
The lady that helped me the day before explained the package hadn’t been scanned again since it left her store the day before and there was no way to know its current location. That’s when all my pent-up feelings from the last forty-eight hours decided to rise to the top and make a fool out of me. I fell apart crying, right there in the mail store among all the people happily mailing off their Christmas packages, as I explained the package had a key for one of my best friends who has cancer. As Gulley said later, I literally went postal at the post office.
It was so bad that the sweet lady in the store wrapped me up in a hug as I cried and she apologized even though it wasn’t her fault, promising me that I could get my money back as soon as the package was located.
I called Jen as soon as I got back to the car and started crying again as I told her the key was missing. But then, like we always do, we found the humor in the whole situation. One of my favorite things about Jen has always been that she is quick to find the funny and so I hung up the phone with tears from laughing instead of crying. But then I decided that the delivery company was responsible and should pay for Jen’s hotel room in Houston for the night since it was their fault that they key was missing and she didn’t have a place to stay.
And so I spent the rest of the afternoon emailing back and forth with their customer service department until they agreed to cover the cost of her hotel for the night. Then I made a hotel reservation right in the Medical Center and texted her the information since she and her husband, Scott, were on their way to Houston at the moment.
The best part is Jen got some good news on Friday morning in Houston about various new treatments and things they can try that offer a 50-60% chance of stopping tumor growth which was much more hopeful news than they’d gotten earlier in the week. You can read Jen’s whole account of this and her update here on her blog.
But I’m really telling you this whole story because as I drove to pick up pizza for dinner on Thursday night, I found myself praying for Jen and thanking God that the delivery company had agreed to cover the cost of her hotel room and asking for the doctors to have wisdom about the best treatments going forward. And then I turned up the radio and heard a Christmas song that sang the words we all know so well, “Do not be afraid, a Savior is born to you this day.”
I don’t even know what song it was – I hadn’t ever heard it before – but in that moment I was hit with the full realization of what Christmas is about. Yes, it’s about a baby born to a virgin and laid in a manger. But those words by the angels to those shepherds that night hold the weight of it all, “Do not be afraid, a Savior is born”. I’ve always read those words and just thought of them in terms of the angels reassuring the shepherds there was nothing to fear as they saw a heavenly host of angels in the night sky.
But through the angle of the lens of watching my friend fight this battle with cancer, I see more. “Do not be afraid, a Savior is born”. Because that’s what God gave us as his son Jesus was born that night so long ago, the assurance that we no longer need to be afraid because we have a Savior. We don’t need to be afraid of death or the future or the present and all those other fear-mongering rabbit trails our minds go to in the middle of the night when we can’t sleep, because we have a God who loves us so much that he sent his son wrapped in the soft skin of a newborn. I feel like until Thursday night, I’d lost some of the wonder of that this year.
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
I wish you and your loved ones the merriest one yet.