Saturday, December 20, 2008


One morning, when Ethan was in the ICU in Gainesville, we decided to leave him long enough to go down to the cafeteria and try to eat a hot breakfast. As the elevator doors opened, we were met by Santa and his helper. A life-sized gingerbread man. They were way too happy and I wanted to slap them.

Yes. I just said, "I wanted to slap them."

I had held it in long enough.

I was sick of the Christmas decorations. I was sick of the Grand Piano in the lobby and the Christmas carols I heard coming from it. I was sick of the beautiful red bows and wreaths that decorated the halls. I was sick of the nurses in their cute little Christmas smocks. I was sick of Christmas.

How could people celebrate? How could people go on like nothing had happened? My life was falling apart! The celebrations continued to build. Everyday, the excitement was growing. Our lives seemed to have stopped, and everyone else's lives were continuing on.

And I was mad. I was really mad.

Just a few days before, I was planning for the greatest Christmas ever. We had a lot to celebrate.

In March of that year, I had surgery on my brain to remove a tumor. The neurosurgeon told me I had a 50/50 chance that it would be malignant. He also told me that because of the location of the tumor, that I might not be able to communicate when I woke up in the recovery room. But, with speech therapy and a lot of hard work, my speech would probably come back. He also told me, after the surgery, that because the tumor had grown deeper into my brain than he had expected, that there was a chance I would have seizures. He didn't want to put me on seizure medications because he didn't want to mask anything. He did, however, want me to have someone with me at all times for the next six weeks. Just in case.

Well, the tumor was benign. I could talk after surgery. I never had a seizure. And, I survived having someone with me all the time for six weeks.

Seth graduated from the University of Florida that May and received the news in August that he had been accepted into the law school at UF. He would begin law school in January.

Ethan was working at a nursery outside of Gainesville. He seemed to be doing so well. He enjoyed working with the two young men that had started the business, and he really enjoyed being outside. At work, Jim would answer the phone with his name and then his office name, "Plans and Programs." Ethan started to answer his phone with, "This is Ethan, pansies and petunias." He would call me at lunch almost everyday to tell me how beautiful the sky was. He would say, "Mom, it's the most beautiful color of blue." He loved being outside. He had been to some career fairs and had narrowed down what he wanted to major in when he started at UF as a junior. His two requirements for any career would be that... 1. He didn't have to work too closely with people and 2. He could be outside.

We really did have a lot to celebrate.

The day before Ethan was injured, Jim, Seth and I went to pick up our Christmas tree. We decorated it that night while Seth watched the SEC championship and ate chili. The dining room was full of all the Christmas decorations Jim had gotten down from the attic. I just wanted everything done early. The decorations. The shopping. The baking. I wanted to have nothing but free time to spend with the boys when Ethan got home for the holidays.

If your kids have moved out of the house or gone away to college, you know there is nothing like having them home. When they are home, in their own bed, it's like a holiday. Actually, it's like every holiday rolled into one. As the boys got older, I realized the day might be coming when they couldn't be home for Christmas. Or, maybe, not be home at the same time.

I was going to take advantage of this Christmas and do it right!!!

But less than 24 hours after decorating the tree, nothing was right.

There I was, standing in an open elevator with a laughing Santa and a ridiculously-big ginger bread man staring me in the face while my baby was upstairs hanging on to life. A life that we had been told by his doctors would not be worth living.

I hope you don't think I am exaggerating about the hopelessness of Ethan's condition after his injury. One of the reasons I find it so hard to write about that time and the months that were to follow, is because there aren't words to describe it. Any words I try to use...any words I use to draw you a picture of it...seem empty and meaningless. There are no words to describe that time. My sister and I were talking about it the other night and decided that unless you were there...unless you heard the doctors...unless you saw the way the nurses looked at us...unless you heard the machines that were working to keep Ethan alive... there's no way you could understand the despair and the hopelessness. We weren't in a hospital waiting for someone to get better. To get well. To go home. We were just there. Going through the motions. Barely hanging-on.

I was reading God's Word. I was praying. I was seeking Him. I so desperately wanted to trust Him. I felt His presence. But my heart was broken. I was past controlling what I was feeling. I felt myself becoming consumed with anger and resentment.

I don't do anger well. I never have.

My anger was beginning to spill out on to others. And, I hated that. Yet, as hard as I tried to keep it to myself... I couldn't.

The general practitioner assigned to Ethan's case, passed me in the hall... right after my encounter with Santa and his helper. I guess he noticed my demeanor and he asked if anything was wrong. Wrong question! My child was in ICU, being kept alive with a ventilator. I've been told that he will never wake up... that he will never know me. And this guy, a doctor, is asking me if anything is wrong. I'm sure after I got through telling him what was wrong, he wished he had never asked.

When I had a chance to go back to the motel and be alone, I let it all come out. I told God exactly how I felt. I told Him exactly how unfair it was that Ethan was hurt. That he was hurt at Christmas. That the pain and the loss would have been the same regardless of whatever time of the year it was, but, with it being Christmas it was like pouring salt into a wound. Why didn't I get to have my Christmas. Christmas with my boys. And, then I started to cry. I told him that I didn't really hate Santa and his ginger bread helper. That I really did want the doctors and nurses who had been so kind to us, to have a wonderful Christmas. That I really did want people to enjoy their families and their celebrations. But, I wanted it for myself, too. I wanted to have Christmas with my family.

And, as I poured my heart out to Him, I became undone. I was broken, guilty, and sorry. And, somehow I became free of it. Free of the anger.

That's when He reminded me that, without Christmas, I would have no hope. Without Christmas I wouldn't be able to receive strength from the Father. I wouldn't know His comfort. I wouldn't have any promises to hang on to. He reminded me that, because God had sent His Son to bridge the gap between a Holy God and a sinful world... a sinful me, I could talk to Him. And... I could receive His grace. He reminded me that the only reason the words in the Bible had spoken to me...the only reason I could pray...the only reason I had felt any comfort at all... was because of Jesus. Jesus. The One in the manger. The Reason for Christmas.

I knew His words were true. His light was shining in my darkness. I asked forgiveness for my anger, and I vowed to take His words with me as I went back to the hospital. I would take them with me as I walked in a world that was planning for the greatest celebration of the year.

Several days later, I was in Ethan's room alone. I was standing beside him, looking at how beautiful he was, when a nurse came to the door and told me that there was a priest that would like to come in and say a prayer for Ethan. I just shook my head no. I was so tired of strangers. I was so tired of talking... I just wanted to be alone with Ethan. But, as soon as I shook my head no, I knew I could never turn down a prayer for Ethan. So, I walked out into the hall and motioned to her that it was okay to send the priest into Ethan's room.

I went back to stand beside Ethan's bed, and Father Julien walked in. During the days we had been in Gainesville, many of the hospital's chaplains had come in to encourage us and to pray with us. Each one had been a blessing. But, I had never seen Father Julien. He wore a red sweater with his white collar and a black blazer. He came and stood beside me.

And for the longest time, he didn't say a word. He just looked at Ethan and then he began to pray. The very first words he said were, "Heavenly Father, what a wonderful time of year it is. Thank you for Christmas. Thank you that because of Christmas we can have hope. Hope for Ethan. Hope for this family." Father Julien was repeating basically the same words that God had spoken to me in the motel room. I don't remember anything else he said.

Hope. Because of Christmas. That's all I heard.

And I knew right then, that God had sent Father Julien to verify, to confirm, what He had spoken to me. He knew that I would need to know that this was truly a message from Him. God wanted me to know that He was well aware that Ethan had been hurt at Christmas. And, that the timing of it all... the timing that seemed to be salt being poured into a wound... was really a gift.

Every red bow I saw. Every Christmas smock I saw on a nurse. Every song I heard played on the piano when I walked through the lobby. Every holiday plan I heard being discussed by others... even Santa and his helper. They would all be reminders of the baby in the manger. The Baby that was sent to reconcile me with the Father. The Lamb of God. Sent so I would never be alone. So I would know His strength and His comfort. So I would have hope.

I wondered for a while if Father Julien was real. Maybe I had imagined him. Maybe he was just an angel.

However, last December when Seth graduated from law school in Gainesville, we saw Father Julien again. Jim was determined to find him. He called Alachua General Hospital to see if Father Julien was on call. He wasn't. After being put on hold several times, Jim was finally able to find the name of his parish. We weren't sure where it was, or if he would even be there, but Jim was determined to find him.

We found his church, and Ethan and I stayed in the car while Jim went to find him. Sunday services were over, but Jim was hopeful we would find him. He went into the sanctuary, and they said Father Julien was next door in his office. He was getting ready for a Christmas party for the children of prisoners at a state prison outside of Gainesville. He was going about the Father's business.

Jim found him and introduced himself, and told him about his visit with me four years before. At first I'm not sure he remembered us. But he came out to the car, and he knelt down beside Ethan's open car door. And he remembered coming to see Ethan. Then he placed his hand on Ethan's forehead, and made the sign of the cross, and prayed for Ethan again. He prayed that Ethan would know the Father, to know Him in all His fullness.

And, as Father Julien left us and walked back inside to get ready for a Christmas celebration, I knew that he truly was an angel. He was my Christmas angel.

Christmas isn't family. Christmas isn't gifts or baking or doing nice things for our neighbors. Christmas isn't traditions or a tree or decorations. Christmas isn't a time of year or a holiday.

Christmas is Hope.

Christmas is Jesus.

"May the God of Hope
fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
Romans 15:13


  1. I, too, remember a preacher coming to the waiting room and wanting us to have prayer together. I don't remember who all was with us other than Debbie, Teddy, Sara and me. There may have been others. We went downstairs to the chapel. Of all the verses he could have read he chose Haggai 1:13. "Then Haggai, the Lord's messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: "I am with you," declares the Lord. And that was so true for me. At a time when there was nothing my little "fix it" mode could do absolutely nothing except pray, God heard the prayers of so many!!! That is what I remember about being in Gainesvile - His presence. I know so many people were praying for you all and everyone I talked with had nothing but an encouraging word for Ethan. I love you. Mary Jo

  2. He was there, wasn't He? In just such an unbelievable way. And, I'm so glad you were there to share everything with me. Not just for my sake. But for yours, too. Because you can't be in His presence like that and not know it and not be changed by it. And as dark as some of the days have been, for both of us, He's never left. Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" John 11:40. We did... and we did. We believed and we saw. I love you, too!

  3. This just absolutely MADE my Christmas. I've read it twice and still want to read it over and over again. Perfect, Shishe-just perfect. Merry Christmas to my precious Aunt.