(*If you're not up for reading a long post, make sure you scroll down and read about how to submit prayer requests.)
Last year for Christmas Kelly and Kyle gave me Mike Huckabee's Christmas book. I was reading another book at the time, so I put the book on the shelf to read later. But when 'later' rolled around I didn't feel like reading a Christmas book when it wasn't Christmas. So over this past weekend, I curled up in bed with a cup of coffee, turned on the Christmas lights in our bedroom, and started reading.
It's a great book. A simple read, (In fact, it's called A Simple Christmas) that features 12 sections on different themes that Huckabee relates to certain memorable Christmases. The first few chapters were on Patience, Sacrifice, Lonliness, Family, Traditions.
Halfway through the book I got to the section called, "Crisis."
When Huckabee was in his first year of marriage, when he and his spouse were both 20, the doctors found a large tumor in his wife's spinal canal. He writes that just after the doctor gave him the bad news, "...I sat there alone trying to soak in what he had just told me. Cancer. That's a word that twenty-year-old healthy women (or their 20-year-old-husbands) are not supposed to be faced with, but here I was trying to come to terms with the fact that my wife had it."
"...If there was silver lining in this cloud, my tear-filled eyes couldn't see it. I did my best to outwardly show confidence and optimism, primarily to keep Janet from giving up and also to further the facade that my faith was unshaken and firm in the face of such unexpected news."
There was much more involved in their crisis though. They were struggling financially, Mike was in his last semester of college. Their car was broken into while they were both at the hospital and many of his school books were taken.
And her tumor was in such an awful place that doctors said she would either be paralyzed from the surgery or, once they opened her up, they would find it inoperable and she would have a few months to live at best.
After the surgery, the surgeon came to talk to Mike. "Dr. Fletcher then calmly and gently told us that when he had gotten to the tumor, expecting it to be firmly attached or wrapped in the spinal cord, he had started the extraction and it had simply dislodged. He said he was surprised, but he had been able to remove the four-or five-inch elongated tumor that had grown inside the bony structure of her spine. I'll never forget him saying, "I think you guys had a lot of people praying for her... and me."
Janet's recovery was long because of the back surgery. She underwent radiation once she was well enough. They got up at 4 a.m. every day to drive 75 miles each way, to sit at a doctors office for an hour, then get back home in time for Huckabee to go to work and school.
And, then, just a few weeks after her treatment, it was Christmas time.
"The Christmas of 1975 was perhaps our simplest ever. Neither of us had money to buy anything for the other that year. But neither of us wanted any "thing" anyway... Something was dramatically different about this Christmas. We had made it to Christmas, and life and hope were all that we wanted. The lights were just as bright and the Christmas food was just as good, but it was the first Christmas ever that no gift at all could have equalled the one we cherished most. We celebrated life itself, and it was a pretty good reminder of what really matters in life... That Christmas we learned that God's greatest gift to us is not to remove us from crisis, but to walk through crisis with us. He does not do us a favor by taking us out of all the trials and tribulations of life, but strengthens us by giving us the grace to get through them and emerge on the other side having realized that what we thought we couldn't endure, we in fact just did."
"How often do we ask for the gift of escape from a problem and instead it seems to escalate? When we want Christmas to represent the easy path and the glittery gifts, we fail to understand that the real message of the Messiah is that the first Christmas was the opposite of easy. It was more about long stretches of darkness and lonliness, instead of the stunning stars that were eventually seen in the night sky. Before the angels sang and the shepherds saw stars, a scared couple fumbled their was around a strange town and endured pain and humiliation. True faith is forged in the furnace, not in the showroom."
This book was a gift, a year in waiting. It would have made for a nice read had I picked it up in December 2009. But this year, it meant so much more.
I hope you've noticed that there are now prayer requests listed on my blog, jus to the right of my posts. Christmas is the most trying time to face difficulties, and I'd like to pray for you if you're going through one. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any requests. Unless you specifically request that I don't, I'll list the requests on the blog for others to pray about.
And if you aren't sure about the story of the first Christmas, if you aren't certain that you do have faith to get you through your trials, read Luke 2 and choose to put your hope in Christ, who came into our world as a baby, but will someday come back as the King.