Eleven years ago, I remember standing in an ICU room with my family as we said goodbye to my Papa, “Toots”. While I was only twelve, I vividly remember riding back to Wilmington with Kyle, Steven, and Matt. In the early morning hours on November 28th, the day after Thanksgiving, Papa passed away. Even at a young age, I knew that Thanksgiving would never be the same. Eleven years later, there hasn’t been a Thanksgiving Day that has passed that I don’t think about that November in 2003.
Last year was the first year our family had ever been apart on Thanksgiving Day. Our girls were in the NICU, and we had learned earlier that week of Amelia’s heart complications. As we gathered together as a family this past Thursday, my heart was so full of gratitude. Oddly enough, Thanksgiving was my Papa’s favorite holiday. After our journey this past year, I believe I learned why he always loved this crisp autumn day.
This past week I have been in a strange place. About a week and a half ago, the girls and I took a quick trip to Wallace to grab our Christmas decorations. I decorated our humble abode last weekend, and I was almost done when I remembered one box that was still in the nursery. When I opened the box, I saw it. The tiny Christmas tree I had decorated to stand by the girls’ cribs in the NICU. I pulled out the small stockings we had taken to them on Christmas Day. I unwrapped their First Christmas ornaments. I found their first picture with Santa Claus, amidst the tubes, wires, and machinery. The contents of this one box took me back to a season that is still all too very real. As we celebrated our first Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s as a family of four in UNC Children’s Hospital, I knew in my heart that we’d never celebrate these holidays without thinking of our time in Chapel Hill.
So, between the discovery of one box and Thanksgiving Day I was in a bit of a slump. I thought about the families that are grabbing Tuesday night dinners on the 7th floor. I thought about our nurses and doctors who would be sacrificing their time with family to help babies and mothers. I thought about the parents who would be spending Thanksgiving Day by their child’s bedside. I thought about the mother who has to take a call from a pediatric cardiologist about the details of her child’s heart surgery. I thought about the father who is working long hours to provide. I reflected. I cried. But, I also rejoiced.
A year ago today, I posted this blog sharing that Amelia would be having heart surgery the next day. As I reread my own words tonight, I was in awe of how far God has brought our family… even from the moment I met Andrew, three years ago today. Every step in our journey has brought us to where we are in this moment, and each memory is indeed a blessing.
The month prior to Papa’s passing, he sent a clipped devotional with a message at the bottom to all eight grandchildren. In his handwriting are the words, “You are going too fast when you don’t take time to enjoy each day God has given you. Love you. Papa.” This simple, yet profound advice came straight from the heart of a simple, yet faithfully devoted man of God. I have this devotional framed, and it sits on the countertop in our kitchen. I pass it countless times a day, but I took a moment to read that devotional and his words last Wednesday night. Enjoy each day. You would think that after the lessons learned we learned during our time in Chapel Hill this would come easy, enjoying each day and cherishing every moment. I listened to the heart-wrenching stories of other mothers. I hugged the neck of a mother who had to say goodbye to her baby boy two days before Christmas. I now look at what my life used to be like and realize how blind I was to what truly matters. Why was Thanksgiving Papa’s favorite holiday? Because it was the one day out of the year that everyone seemed to slow down, give thanks for life’s many blessings, and enjoy the day.
As we enter the spirit of the Christmas season, let’s hold one another accountable for enjoying the day and cherishing the moments. Andrew and I are so excited to share the spirit of this season with our girls. The next twenty-five days have fervently been prayed for since last Christmas. We are excited to ride around the City of Oaks, look at Christmas lights, and listen to Christmas music. We are excited to share the Christmas story with the girls through our Advent Calendar. We can’t wait to take them to see Santa Claus, minus the tubes, wires, and machinery this year. We are giddy with excitement for Christmas morning. We are looking forward to going as a family of four to our family and social Christmas gatherings. We pray no one catches on fire when we sing Silent Night by candlelight at the church Christmas Eve service, that would be our luck. We are ready to enjoy the day, and cherish the moments of this special season.
But, in our excitement, we are remembering those suffering this season. Our hearts are with the mother and father that have to leave their baby on Christmas Eve. Our hearts are with them on Christmas morning when they walk into their nursery, and it’s empty. Our hearts are with the parents that no longer associate this season to be the happiest of all, but rather a season of grief and pain. Our hearts are with the widow who is wondering how he/she will make it through Christmas without their spouse. Our hearts are with the sons and daughters who wish to have one more Christmas morning with their mom or dad. Our hearts are with the service men and women who are miles away from their families on Christmas Day.
For those of you in a “slump”, I pray for you. I pray you find your own Papa Word’s. Words that will breathe life, hope, joy, and reassurance back into your days. There is hope in this season. There is peace. There is joy. And, there is love.
Enjoy your day. Cherish the moments. Lift your voice and rejoice in the coming of the Christ Child, the Savior who breathes life into us everyday.
Happy December, friends.