Eleven years ago today, I had a life-changing experience. This one event altered the way we celebrate our family Christmas. We realized all the sparkle and glitz and gifts and shopping and spending were like Solomon’s proclamation in Ecclesiastes 2:11, “everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
Instead of celebrating the birth of my fourth daughter and bonding with her, I found myself in the hospital hooked up to monitors and IVs fighting for my life. We thought I had a cold that had turned into maybe pneumonia.
I shuffled into an ER early that morning barely able to catch my breath, expecting to get a nebulizer treatment and some antibiotics. Within minutes, I was surrounded by nurses and doctors. My blood pressure was in the range of 185/120. My oxygen was in the 70’s. I had so much fluid in my lungs that my heart wasn’t even visible on a chest x-ray.
This was not going to be quick visit. I spent 4 days in the hospital, drained 2 liters of fluid from my lungs, and needed oxygen for 48 hours.
I was diagnosed with Peripartum Cardiomyopothy, a rare and very deadly complication that causes healthy, pregnant or recently delivered, women to develop congestive heart failure. It can develop slowly, mimicking normal pregnancy symptoms, or it can happen suddenly, instantly killing the woman. Regardless of which way it develops, it permanently affects the life of the new mother.
In our case, just two weeks before Christmas, we had a newborn daughter, three older daughters, and virtually no way to celebrate the holiday. I had barely started shopping, thinking I would have time after the baby came. We had not decorated early, again thinking we had plenty of time to put up our tree and other decorations. Instead, I was in bed most of the day and unable to walk across a room without pausing for air.
We were in full-on survival mode. All the trappings of our normal Christmas were forgotten as we desperately tried to adjust to a new life where I could very possibly be disabled. We had friends and family come in to help with our children. I could only hold my infant by propping her up in my lap with a boppy pillow. Someone had to hand her to me and take her from me when I tired. We had more friends bring us meals for a solid six weeks. A few very close friends thoughtfully put together some gifts for each of the children to have under a Christmas tree that the girls drew on butcher paper and taped to the wall.
This was not the year of the glamour Christmas, but it was the year we learned the true meaning of Christmas. We huddled in our home with our newly expanded family and thanked God for new life and preserved life. We prayed for whatever the future would hold, because we could only see a day ahead at this point.
What we learned was that a simple, focused family Christmas was every bit as good, and even better, than our crazy past Christmases trying to decorate perfectly and finding the best gifts for a dozen people who wouldn’t even remember we gave them anything.
So, every year since then, we have tried to keep the feeling of simple and focused. We’re thankful for our many blessings. We don’t shop like maniacs or decorate like the Griswolds. We gift to only our immediate family, and those gifts are very inexpensive or handmade.
We don’t care what everyone else does or how much they spend. After eleven years, we are fine with the little we choose to have. And I think that is a life lesson for our children. They don’t expect much extra, other than the games and puzzles and music and movies and special foods we plan. We have settled into a Christ-centered and family-focused holiday, a legacy I hope they carry to their own homes when they marry.
Christmas is my favorite holiday. It’s a wonderful time to celebrate the greatest event in history, the birth of Christ. You don’t have to endure a life-altering event like me to change your family Christmas traditions. Simply stop whatever you feel you MUST do and replace it with what you WANT to do – or not do. You might find you enjoy doing less much more than you ever imagined.