What a Gift!

manger color© 2011 Used by Permission

-Diana C. Derringer- We had already stuffed ourselves with Mom’s traditional Christmas breakfast. After the family cleared the table and gathered in the living room, Dad read the Christmas story from Luke 2 and prayed. We designated the newest great-grandson, ten days shy of his third birthday, to help distribute gifts. Then Mom shared her request. “Wait a minute. Before we open gifts, I want us to do something new this Christmas. Let’s go around the room and each person share something you’re thankful for.”

Although appropriate any time, Mom’s suggestion was particularly meaningful in light of our family’s recent history. Almost three years earlier, we faced a grim prognosis for our young helper and his mother.

Because of severe respiratory distress, he had to be delivered via cesarean section seven weeks premature. Doctors remained guarded about his recovery. His mother’s situation was far worse, with a diagnosis of severe cardiomyopathy. She was transferred to a hospital eighty miles from her baby. Doctors performed immediate surgery and placed her on an external heart pump. My nephew signed for a possible heart transplant, if she survived. Miraculously, the baby went home in ten days, and his mother, minus the heart pump and with her own heart, in a month. Both remain in good health.

My husband and I spent the previous Christmas season in three different hospitals. A six-year survivor of a malignant brain tumor (a miracle story of its own), he suffered a heart attack, probable stroke, severe brain injury from his fall, and a lack of oxygen when his heart and lungs ceased functioning. Following the emergency room consultation, family and friends prepared to say goodbye. However, when staff removed his respirator the following day, he breathed on his own and tracked motion and sound. The third day he sat alone and talked. While he still suffers some residual effects, his progress continues to astound his doctors … and us.

Our family had to delay that particular Christmas gathering until New Year’s Eve, due to a funeral for Mom’s sister, her last sibling, on Christmas Eve. Although difficult in many ways, her service epitomized a celebration of life. Our aunt planned the entire service and insisted on quilts from her personal collection rather than flowers to adorn the casket and room. Through laughter and tears, we recalled our time together and looked forward to meeting again. The entire family later gathered at Mom and Dad’s for a meal, memories, and music. Anytime we get together, we sing.

With these events and more in all our minds, our offering of thanks rang especially true. And what better way to top it than with a sing-along led by our lovable little elf? His grandmother suggested “Away in a Manger,” but he started instead with “Jesus Loves Me.” Her request followed. And then his finale: “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.

Who needed presents with a day like that? Of course we tore into them, one at a time, with the preschooler’s enthusiastic help. What fun to watch him jump, clap, and laugh with delight when we opened each gift.

Remembering our family’s near losses and the miracles of life that surrounded us made us humbly appreciate, as never before, the sacrifice God made on our behalf. His precious Child freely given. The miracle of Jesus’ resurrection, making victory over sin and death available to each of us. And the blanket of divine love that wraps each of God’s children with peace, joy, and comfort through every hardship.
What a gift!

Diana C. Derringer, a former social worker, adjunct professor and resident of Campbellsville, KY, writes for several publications. She and her husband serve as a friendship family for international university students. She maintains a blog, Words, Wit, & Wisdom, at http:// dianaderringer.com.