God’s Christmas Gift
By Pat Knight
I had just settled into a pew prior to the church service, when my husband tapped me on the shoulder. As he whispered, “Something’s happened to my mother,” I heard panic in his voice. Her crumpled form lay on the cold floor of the church vestry. My hand over my mother-in-law’s chest detected the last heartbeat as someone else attempted to palpate her carotid pulse. There was no time to think, but simply to respond. Our knowledge of life saving, practiced and stored for future use, must be activated into quick and decisive maneuvers. The ambulance arrived and whisked Della off to the hospital. I was stunned. It was Christmas Eve and my mother-in-law had just suffered a cardiac arrest in church. In a few short minutes the serenity of the day had given way to utter chaos.
Further testing revealed our loved one had not suffered a heart attack, but worse—a ruptured brain aneurysm. The weakened wall of an artery had burst, causing a stroke in a vital area of her brain. She was transferred via ambulance to a larger medical center as a blizzard raged on Christmas morning. My husband and his sister followed the ambulance while I remained at home to create a little Christmas spirit for our young son and his four older cousins.
Exhaustion enveloped after the holiday dinner I prepared for eleven people was barely nibbled by five excited children. Aimlessly, I slumped into a chair while the teens supervised the young children outside playing in the snow. I could no longer focus on the events of the past twenty-four hours. Instead, my mind wandered to Bethlehem. On a cold, still night in the sheepfold, I was a weather-worn shepherd, frightened by the sudden appearance of an angel. Then the sky spontaneously opened to reveal a vast army of heaven’s angels, singing the jubilant praises of a birth announcement. “‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2:14)
In the midst of the adversity the Holy Family experienced on that first Christmas day, God assured them, and us, of the greatest gift of all time—His Son. I was rejuvenated by the stunning reminder that it was Christmas day and that I, too, had reason to rejoice.
Among the uncertainty and confusion, God lavished me with His marvelous gift of peace. The affirmation that the Lord was in control was very real. Knowing that His plan for the birth of His Son was perfect to the last detail, just as it had been prophesied for centuries, how could I doubt that God’s plan would be any less perfect for the life of my mother-in-law?
The physicians gave us no encouragement that our loved one would live. In fact, when we inquired about her future homecoming, they simply stared at us in disbelief that our focus was on her recovery. For weeks her life hung in the balance between life and death. She endured brain surgery, drug reactions, and paralysis. How should I pray? Seeing my husband’s mother in her fatal condition, I could hardly ask that she live. Yet, I didn’t want her to die. I realized that I must commit her life totally to God. Hesitantly at first, I prayed, “Thy will be done.” How difficult it was to let go! But, eventually my ineffectual hold on her transformed to urgent, trusting prayer that God’s will alone take precedent.
In the town where we lived, news traveled fast. People congratulated me for my heroic actions in saving a life. I bristled against the distinction. “Oh, no,” I clarified, “God saved her. I was only one of many people involved in His plan.” But my explanation didn’t discourage the next well-meaning person from assigning hero status. It was futile to attempt to dissuade public opinion, but my heart and mind rebelled against the perceived distinction. It had never been my desire to participate in such a pivotal event.
Previously, I had wondered if I would be able to perform CPR on a family member. Although the steps to the resuscitation process emerged naturally, my emotional reaction was overwhelming. One night at work, my nurse manager asked how I was handling the family crisis. I was shocked to hear the words I blurted out: “I can’t shake the terrible guilt I feel for participating in her revival, only to see her remain in a vegetative state these past few weeks.”
My manager responded, “Oh, I thought you believed in the One who died to remove all guilt.” What spiritual introspection and unrest that one comment elicited! I then realized how significantly my faith had been stymied by personal guilt. How could I possibly pray with conviction, believing in God’s compassion, power, and authority, if my heart was filled with self-incrimination? I proceeded to ask His forgiveness and press onward, requesting God’s help to develop a confident, obedient faith walk.
The quintessential question remains as to God’s purpose for afflictions and hardships in a Christian’s life. Though we will likely never know all of the answers until heaven, the crisis produced an unexpected personal consequence: I grew substantially in my faith walk and prayer life as a result of my mother-in-law’s turbulent illness and prolonged recovery.
God eventually performed a healing miracle in our loved one’s life. She lived for another seventeen years following her recovery, pleasantly astonishing her neurosurgeon and caregivers. Never did our family celebrate another Christmas without boundless joy and gratitude for the spectacular miracles God delights to perform in His children’s lives.