Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Christmas memory...

As I sit here on this early December morning and think about Christmas, I wonder how many truly understand the meaning of this glorious day. There are those of you that know that it is a birthday celebration of the birth of our Lord and Saviour. Some of you see Christmas as a time when we lay aside our differences and give freely of our hearts. And still, there are those who would believe that Christmas is the day that we get to sit anxiously by the tree, waiting for our name to be called out and our gifts to be handed to us. The spread of food and the sounds of laughter that echo through out our minds brings an instant smile to our faces.
Christmas... A time for sharing and loving and laughing and... Crying? Hmmmm? Why does that word seem out of place here? Listen to my story and perhaps then you will understand that Christmas is also a time for crying. Not perhaps the crying you might think of at first, but crying just the same.
In 1982, while stationed at Ellsworth A.F.B. in South Dakota, I met and married the love of my life, Sheila. As beautiful as a dream and as full of life as anyone could be, we spent day after day in the Black Hills fishing and walking and simply falling in love. We found that we were to be blessed with our first daughter in Feb. of 1983 She was our pride and joy and Samantha went with us everywhere. She sat in her little Pumpkin Seat at the lakes edge as her mother and I fished. I held a stringer of fish up close to her so that she could have her picture taken with daddy and his fish. Our first two Christmases were like any other of a million Christmas days. We laughed and ate and sang and ate and celebrated the day of our Saviours birth.
By July of 1984, life had already begun to shape what Christmas would come to mean to me on this day, twenty-four years later. Sheila had burned herself while frying some eggs. Not a terrible burn at all, in fact just the tip of her finger. By the weeks end, her entire hand had begun to turn dark. We sought doctor after doctor trying to find the problem. Sheila spent weeks and weeks in the hospital. Finally one diagnosis was stated. She had Renaud's Syndrome. Treated and sent home, her problems didn't seem to be diminishing. By November when she and Samantha flew back to Rapid City to spend the full week of Thanksgiving with her parents,{I joined them two days before the holiday} she found herself to weak to make it from store to store. When we returned home, she went back into the hospital. That trip would be the start of a life-long battle for her life. It was discovered that Sheila had Polymyositis, one of the 40 nuero-muscular diseases that form Muscular Dystrophy. The disease would break down her muscles until she could not walk at all. Christmas that year was to be spent waking Samantha to open her gifts from Santa Clause and then taking her with me to the hospital to open gifts with mommy. Sam didn't understand the difference in where we were opening mommy's gifts. She only knew that we were with mommy on that special day.
Wonderfully, miraculously, God sent doctors that were able to send the disease into remission and even give her the ability to walk again back for a time. We found that we were to be blessed again with our second daughter, Shannon. Sheila's disease came out of remission and she returned to the hospital, where she would remain from October until long after Shannon was born in February. That Christmas was spent the same as the year before. We opened Santa's gift without mommy and then Sam and I went to the hospital to spend the day with mommy. This time, Sam seemed to understand a little more that we were not at home with the family, eating and laughing and singing. We were in a hospital where there was no singing or laughing. There were just a lot of nurses and doctors coming in and out of her mommy's room. Christmas had taken on an entire new meaning to me now. I no longer cared what Santa left under the tree for me nor was I concerned with whether or not I had been naughty or nice. I had very little time to be either now.
Shannon was born in February, two months early. She weighed just 2 lbs. 9 ounces when she came out into this world. Doctors warned us she might not be alive but as she does even to this day, she went against the normal and came out kicking and screaming. {First Miracle} The sack that held her was covered in white. All the meds that Sheila was on should have gone into Shannon but they were stopped outside the sack. No white spots from the steroids, no signs of any meds harming her. {Another Miracle.}She remained in the hospital Neo-Natal Unit for six weeks.
I would get up each morning and feed and dress Sam. Then we would go up to the hospital where Sheila was and visit her. We would go to the Neo-Natal Unit and the nurses would teach me how to feed and change this tiny baby that was even to small for preemie diapers. I learned how to roll them twice so they didn't hang on Shannon. The nursing staff was wonderful and when Shannon was almost seven weeks old, I brought her home with me to live with my parents. Sheila remained in the hospital for another 4 months.
Our days now were full. I would get up and feed the girls at seven. We would dress and go to the hospital. Shannon was on an apnea monitor for almost one year until her lungs fully developed. We would spend the day with Sheila, eating our meals at the hospital or fast food and then I would take the girls to my sisters house and go to work at three. I would work until midnight and then swing by the hospital to see Sheila, who had by now spent almost a year in the hospital without coming home. I would get home, {My parents house} and feed Shannon. I would sleep from three a.m. to four a.m. and then wake to feed her again. I would sleep from 5 a.m. until 7 a.m. and then we would start our day again. We lived this life on and off for several years to follow. I was called to the hospital 15 times to hear doctors say that Sheila would not live through the night. God graced us time and time again and Sheila would recover and continue on living. She came home just before Thanksgiving only to return to the hospital the week before Christmas.
My father asked me what I was hoping to get for Christmas that year. I remember turning to him and saying through tears, "I just want my family to be a family again." Christmas had taken on a whole new meaning for me now. It was no longer just about laughing and singing and eating good food. It was not about giving or getting gifts from Santa. The year that Sheila came home to spend Christmas with Sam and Shannon and I, we started a tradition that we still do today. Before we ever touch a gift, before we sing a song or do anything, I read the verses of the bible that tell of the birth of baby Jesus. We talk for a moment of what a miracle he was and how God had blessed the earth with his son. We then reflect on what Christmas is to us. The blessing of life and of living and of never, ever giving up hope. Realizing that if you have your family with you at Christmas time, then you already have your Christmas gift.
Sam is 25 and Shannon is 23.Sheila spent many more weeks and months in so many different hospitals. She spent 60 days in a coma on life support, doctors giving her a 5 to 15 % chance of living. I smiled and shook my head at them. I said, "You have no idea who is lying in that bed in ICU. She won't die." She did not and after 60 days, Sheila woke and and a few weeks later came home again. She remained in wheelchair and spent so long in hospitals. Sheila went to heaven on March 8th of 2006 Christmas once again took on a whole new meaning for me when she went to be with God. Life changed totally, never to be the same for my family.
Life has gone on for me, even when I did not want it too. Sheila is still with me and celebrates Christmas with us every year. I still cry for her and wish each and every day that she were right here, physically standing beside me, whispering to me "Hey good looking, here's your coffee.Shall we wake the girls now?" It was only 5 a.m... We shared a great life filled with love and happiness, no matter what life tossed at us.Our love was beautiful as was Sheila. I shall celebrate all she gave to me every year at Christmas. Pure, unconditional love and the gift of her strength. Without it, I would not have survived. Her memory remains a Christmas gift each year.
If you asked me what I want for Christmas when it arrives this year, I will say to you, "I just want my family to be together again." Jesus came into this world to die for me and to see that we were forgiven of our sins. He caused the first Christmas and gave new life to this world of ours. I will honor him and thank him for that this Christmas, as I have each and every year since Sheila became ill. And then I will go somewhere quiet for a moment and I will cry. Not tears shed because of sadness or hurt. I will cry for the wonderful gift that God places under my tree every year. The gift of life and of sitting in my own home remembering the many years of blessings he gave to me. Thanking him for the new memories he has blessed my family with.
If this year, you look at the tree and there isn't as much under it, if you feel like there could be more... look around the house. Sneak into your children's bedroom and kiss them while they sleep. Cuddle your loved one a little tighter tonight and say a silent prayer. Thank God for the blessings of each and everyone of them. Thank him for the blessing of his Only begotten Son, who came to us on what we call Christmas Day, to die for our sins and give to us ever lasting life. This Christmas, celebrate the Gift Of Life and family! Love and enjoy your family and friends. The Only real, true gifts at Christmas are Jesus and our families being with us.
Merry Christmas Sheila... this ones for you.

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