I wanted to write this post as a Christmas letter and physically include it with our cards and email it to our cyber friends, but I have wrestled with it in a strange way. I have started and deleted several "drafts" with words that almost express the feelings but never really seem to do them justice. This morning I am inspired to try again by a gift that was waiting for me under our tree. No one knew who it was from. It was wrapped in the most beautiful red polka dot paper, tied with a "Tiffany" blue ribbon and one simple pearl. The stunningly simple hand stamped necklace reads my life mantra and the names of my husband and girls.The note which is photographed above as well reads:
I came home from my "rehab" lake house yesterday morning to rejoin my family for a few days to celebrate Christmas. By last evening I was in so much pain and every part of my brain was haywire. There was a new puppy in the house and clearly the routine we have lived by for years has been put out to pasture since I have been away. In the month I've been gone my family has managed and in the process my space is very different. Every single one of Danica's toys was disorganized. You only understand this if you have seen my VERY particular way of keeping my girl's things in marked Sterlite containers with a hard and fast rule. "If you get something out you put it away. Then AND ONLY THEN can another toy or activity be introduced." I often scratch my head when I read people's facebook posts always remarking how messy their houses are. For me it's really this simple. Apparently I am the only one who took this seriously or enforced it. I kept finding Squinkies and Barbie things and marbles and stickers and Disney Princess dress up and Strawberry Shortcake things everywhere. Her closet is like someone stuffed everything in there because they knew I was coming home. I was flipping out and just as expected began trying to remedy the situation and bending my back and neck which is totally not okay at this point in my recovery. I began to hurt very badly and also started to cry and sob. Everyone kept telling me, "Go get in bed." But who was going to coordinate the reading of the Christmas story and prayer and opening Christmas jammies and writing notes to Santa and putting out cookies and milk for him and carrots out back for the reindeer? We pushed through these traditions with Dan and my dad and my mom helping, and I collapsed into bed. The night was almost comical. Danica tried to sleep with me and kept coughing and kicking me, and I truly did not sleep a wink. Poor Delaney was spending the first night trying to figure out how to mother her new puppy, Twixie. Just like an infant she wanted to be held and attended to and Delaney came in crying, "I don't know if I can do this." Dan intervened. I think we both just prayed for morning to come, and it finally did.
I have never seen so many gifts under one tree for one family. Dan and I truly bought our girls each a couple simple gifts and did stockings with a secret monetary gift given to us for that specific purpose. You see a family like ours feels guilty when we spend money on anything except trying to pay the many medical professionals who have served us and saved our lives. The mountain of debt we have accumulated is not from mass consumption. It is from survival. God knows our hearts. He brought us here. Through wisdom we have tried to pick and choose who we can pay and when and then leave our anxiety about the rest with The Great Provider. The abundance today was completely overwhelming. How in the world can our family be this loved and blessed? Many of the gifts had a name after "to" but no name after "from". We were adopted by our church's Jr. High group, and they did an amazing job secretly shopping and wrapping and organizing the best Christmas ever when I could not do anything. Helpless to make any kind of elaborate Christmas happen financially or otherwise SO MANY stepped in and took care of the details. Even the amazing addition to our family of Delaney's long awaited heart desire, a pup, was an extravagant secret gift from my dad, playing Santa.
It's noon, and I'm back in bed and have taken a much needed a muscle relaxer and pain medication. I am exhausted, but my heart and mind are fixated on all of you, the secret givers, the ones who have watched from afar for years now as we have suffered and healed and many times taken one step forward only to fall two back. Every once in awhile someone will facebook friend me or write me an email or suddenly comment on the blog admitting they have been reading and praying and often God provides for our family in times of great need at the very last minute from the most unexpected person or place. It's beautiful and life changing. I know there is an entire book waiting in just those stories.
I am inspired to begin to document them all because of a very special book I know God did not bring into my life by accident. The title is A Secret Gift. It is a beautiful true account written by Ted Gup about a campaign his grandfather began in Canton, Ohio in 1933, during the depths of the Depression. He placed a very simple advertisement in the Canton Repository on Monday morning, December 17th, that read:
In Consideration Of The White Collar Man!
My book club, who I've written of many times, chose this book as our December selection. I had not purchased it or checked it out of the library when I was headed for surgery in late November. I couldn't read anymore for any length of time because of the crushing headache and black floaters in my right eye and the way my right hand would go numb when holding anything. The Saturday before we left for Maryland my parents took me to the beautiful home on Lake Cable I am recovering in. Again, this place to stay was a gift from strangers to me, children of friends of my parents. The only book lying on their console was "A Secret Gift." It was signed by the author. Ten days later I returned from a mountain top experience. I know, brain surgery and spinal fusion aren't usually described this way, but I knew I was healed to some degree already. Hurting, yes, in all the ways you would expect after such a major operation, but I could see without a single black floater. Although my incisions and nerve numbness were very painful I did not have a headache and my hands were not numb at all! I think I slept the first couple of days at the lake, but my first order of business as I came out of the fog was to dive into Ted Gup's book.
I'm not going to give much away, because I hope you will buy it or borrow it and read it. It's an amazing historical account of Canton during the Depression. Most importantly it is a story about a man, Sam Stone, who had been blessed and sheltered in some ways from the economy, made up a fictitious name and reached out to others in need at Christmas. Many of the letters he received are included in the book as people wrote for just a little something to feed their family or surprise their children with needed shoes and coats or a trinket of Christmas joy. Some of the letters were sent as "nominations" for others similar to what happened with the necklace I received today and the secret Christmas money we received as a family from a plea sent out by another stranger who has been quietly following our story. The most important theme through the entire book is how often by sharing what we can with others it is not really the gift that endures but the HOPE there is love remaining in this harsh world, and we are not alone. The families in the book were hard working and proud. When the economy plummeted and their lives spiraled out of control there was no amount of gumption that could save their jobs or the money they had saved in banks that folded. They were victims of similar circumstances that have brought our family to this humble place without a home of our own and so dependent in many ways on the care of others. Five years ago we would have been considered well to do, upwardly mobile and the ones most likely to give charity. Here we sit humbled beyond measure by God's change in plans for our life and by YOUR love.
Really, this post is a thank you note to each and every one of you who has given in big and small ways to us quietly and secretly and out loud. We can never repay you personally, but we pray fervently God would bring us back full circle to give to others as richly as we have been given to and even more abundantly so. We love you, those we know and those who have stayed hidden for years reading our story and faithfully praying for us.
Merry Christmas. May you know the HOPE we have come to live in By His Grace. Through His Strength. Dan, Monica, Delaney and Danica