Remembering Christmas . . .

winter, texas, scene, snow, through the trees, wood shingles, Christmas, remembering, memoriesNope, this is not my childhood home.  It’s a bit better than the one I remember.  Regardless, there still were some Christmas traditions that were just as lovely.  That’s the great thing about memories.  You can pick and choose which ones to bring to life on a cold December night like tonight . . .

She loved Christmas.  Like all moms, all the ornaments we made during our childhood decorated the tree along with those glass ornaments that sometimes peeled from being stored in the heat of the attic over the summer.  There were four that never faded, however.  I don’t really know where they came from yet do recall that they were bright pink, a double-pointed teardrop shape, and sparkly in silver and sequined adornments.  She always placed them near the top of the tree like icing on a chocolate layer cake.  Then there were the ones we made by pinning seed beads and ribbon into satiny foam balls.  The ones my mom made had the beads lined up in straight lines (unlike mine!).  Colored lights lit the inside; silvery tinsel draped over the top of everything twinkled on the outside.  Fabulous indeed!

No matter my means over the years, I still use a white sheet like my family did as a tree skirt.  It looks to me like the snowy drifts that cover the Midwest in winter time and it’s a perfect backdrop for the little ceramic nativity set nestled within the folds.  I think most of us had a set made by my Aunt Shirley.  The little lambs (held by the shepherds), no more than 3/4 inch tall were my favorite part of the first Christmas scene.  We always placed a few angels above where Jesus lain . . . or maybe it was me who insisted they go there!  I can’t remember.

When I was really small and my Dad was still around, we would leave out cookies on Christmas Eve for Santa.  I still recall the delight of seeing the crumbs on that white Corelle salad plate in the morning, picturing the big guy munching on them with ash in his beard from the drop down the chimney.  The best part was when my Dad had used his work boots to make dusty footprints coming from the fireplace hearth leading out onto the gold, scalloped carpeting.  Must have irked my mom to have to clean it all up Christmas morning!  She was like that.  Always cleaning.

Her Christmas party for all of our family was usually on Christmas day.  She had tins and Tupperware containers filled with our favorite Christmas cookies to keep the “bottomless” chrome platters stocked throughout the evening.  It was my unofficial job to see to that.  I liked the powdered-sugar coated rum balls and cocoa refrigerator cookies the best.  It took me decades to appreciate the thumbprint confections rolled in walnuts and filled when warm with Smuckers jelly.  Now they are my favorite.  Or is it the chocolate crinkles from her mom’s recipe?  So many from which to choose!

Cookies, boxes of chocolates, and tons of food filled the kitchen counter all night long.  One year it would be rolled cold cuts with cheese and another year a honey-baked ham that was a gift from her employer where she was an office manager.  Every coffee table or side table had M&M’s or nuts on it until a toddler stuffed his or her face with one too many!  There was always a bar with the aunt and uncle’s favorites, every flavor of pop (don’t say soda!), an ice bucket, and those little clear plastic cups that only got used for parties.  Our bellies were all stuffed by night’s end.

My mom loved to give gifts.  We used to think it was my Dad who spent too much money on toys when we were little but my mom had her own way of giving generously too.  Every year she prepared about 20 gifts of the same kind to give away to our cousins and any other kids who showed up at the house Christmas night.  I think I was envious of what they got; I truly don’t remember a single one except for the fanny packs she gave out one year!  I watched out the window on and off all afternoon until it got dark outside, looking forward to the party Christmas night for a personal reason:  my Godmother always brought a special gift for me.  In the Catholic faith, the parents ask a male and female to be the child’s Godfather and Godmother, respectively, before the baby’s baptism.  I understand that their role from the time of the baptism ceremony is to mentor the little one in matters of faith as he or she grows up . . . and give birthday and Christmas gifts too!

My Aunt Shirley, my mom’s next youngest sister, got it right on both counts.  My Godmother did take a special interest in me as I grew up and continued when my life got complicated by the events occurring around me.  I still have my confirmation prayer book and the green ceramic pitcher she gave me.  It was at her church in Royal Oak, Michigan that I would first encounter the love of Jesus Christ during the baptism service of her youngest son, Tommy.  I became his Godmother that night as a teenager.  It would take me years to realize that being a Godmother was about more than gifting (which I often forgot to do for Tom when I was away at college or out doing life), that mentoring a child unto a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is the most important role of all.  I was glad to learn later in life that Aunt Shirley knew Jesus too.  It just doesn’t matter what church you go to or what rituals you follow when you meet the God of the Bible.

Yes, my mom loved Christmas and so do I.  She liked silly things like a stuffed moose with a green-n-red plaid scarf wrapped around its neck or a musical snowman that she placed at the end of the kitchen counter all December long.  I smile remembering these traditions, these memories.  These are good ones.  I just wish I knew whether or not she personally knew the person of Jesus Christ represented by the little ceramic baby in her ceramic and wooden manger scene.

When I entered my mom’s home after she had passed away, I noticed a greeting card on her kitchen table that I had sent to her a month earlier.  On it was a cute picture of a little boy wearing a Detroit Tiger’s baseball cap.  I knew she would get a kick out of it!  Inside was a Gospel message from me and invitation to accept Christ as Lord and Savior.  Of all the things that could have been on that kitchen table at that time in her life, one was that card with the cute kid on it and important message inside that remained.  Amazingly, I found that card in a store where I lived at the time in the land of Chicago Cubs and White Sox fans!  I wonder:  surely she understood the meaning of Christmas and entered in the presence of the Lord as His own before she died?  I just don’t know.

One day I will know.  And so will you, Gentle Reader.  I hope we will both remember Christmas as a time when we celebrate with more than cookies and gifts, ceramic nativity sets and church services.  The greatest sacrifice was made 2,000 years ago to give us life eternal if we but believe in what Jesus did for us on His cross.  Join me in celebrating with Jesus in your heart this December night and always.  There’s a great and eternal party that awaits in heaven one day for us if we do!

JJ

Isaiah 9: 6-7

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.

 

It tops the list

We all have times that define who we become:  turning points such as the day we got M-arried, came to C-hrist, experienced a T-raumatic event, W-itnessed the passing of someone we dearly loved, or maybe we I-nherited some money.  I have experienced all of these and some more than once!  I will leave you hanging on which one(s) have occurred more than twice!

Tonight I will publish the big “T” list for the most traumatic events I have experienced in 2 sub-categories as follows:

Emotional Trauma.  March 4, 2003:  The night my former spouse left me.

Physical Trauma.  December 18, 2016:  The afternoon a case of shingles took hold in my face.

Gratefully the gifts of time and good counsel have allowed the first one to fade over the past 14 years.  I have a wonderful husband now who loves me beautifully in my “intended beloved” Steve.  He has witnessed and endured the second big T with me two weeks ago.  I think we are both still in a bit of shock as I continue to recover.

I had just been diagnosed with shingles on Friday, December 16th in my doctor’s office.  (Shingles is a flare of chicken pox in adulthood triggered by severe stress.)  Dr. J prescribed an anti-viral medication and sent me off to the grocery store pharmacy to pick it up.  Within a day I started to itch and the pain in my right jaw was ramping up; the lesions on my face began to get bigger and blister.  Various remedies here at home were not making any impact.  I began increasing my dose of Ibuprofen to near-prescription levels to be able to sleep.  By Sunday I was holding the right side of my jaw and ear canal in agony and taking double the OTC dose of pain meds every 6-8 hours.  I thought that maybe I needed a chiropractic adjustment to treat the wrenching my neck from the daily seizure attack episodes.  However, the interim massage or stretching techniques were not working; heat or ice made everything much worse.  I sat in our sauna for awhile and had a rash by the time I was done.  What was going on?

Nothing really prepares you for the cruel, searing, unrelenting pain of shingles when it erupts in sensitive areas of the body!  I started to scream when the pain randomly pulsed up like a lightening bolt cutting through my jaw and ear.  I called our local Rapid Care Clinic and figured out how Steve and I would need to get there before it closed at 2:00 p.m. on a Sunday.  The internist who saw me marveled at the lesions that were now worsening both inside my mouth and on my face.  The rash was from the Valacyclovir (anti-viral).  He sent me to the hospital . . .

Even a crow bar might not have been enough to wrench my hand morphed into my face in a feeble attempt to control the pain.  Excruciating stages of waiting followed.  It would be EIGHT HOURS from my last pain medication at home before my first dose of Torodol in the ER (that did NOTHING, by the way!!!).  It would be an  additional FOUR HOURS before I would receive Dilaudid in my hospital room that brought relief and another day and one-half of nausea that broke through the Zofran administered to counter it.  Four liters of fluids ran through my veins over the next 3 days.  I held back portions of food on my bedside table to try and protect my stomach from the two new anti-viral medications, gabapentin, and prescription-strength Ibuprofen needed to manage my symptoms.  I slept 3 broken hours each night.  The foam ear plugs didn’t work.  HGTV got me through a drugged, constipated stupor.  I was so very sick.

I will never forget what happened in the tiny room in the ER where Steve and I landed that Sunday afternoon.  The room was so small that the gurney was positioned on an angle.  There was no call light and medical supplies were stuffed in open shelving within reach of each of us.  That’s not right!  A doctor eventually came in and started questioning me as if he had just met me in the hallway outside the gift shop.  “Did you not get report from the Rapid Care Clinic or internist who sent me here?” I blubbered.  “All of my allergies are in your computer system,” I tried to state while keeping some semblance of composure.  He left to go check as if to bow at the end of a chat at a wedding reception.  Unbelievable.

We tried to remain calm.  There was a lot of commotion outside our closed door from the activities and people moving about beyond it.  Hours were passing.  I had never had children before so the pain of birthing was not in my memory.  They do say that the pain of shingles is worse but I really do not know that personally.  Steve appeared numb with exhaustion.  We have both been through so much trauma over the past 5 years of my nightly seizure attacks, tens of thousands of dollars of medical expenses, lost holidays/events of life together, cancelled dreams, permanently altered sleep patterns, maddening chemical-avoidance activities, and existence from one crisis to the next but even so, we were not prepared for this night.

Then I completely came unglued.

Blood-curdling screams erupted from the depths of my soul.  Wails of grief were so deep that my entire body twisted and extended against the bed as heavy tears burned my scorched face and dampened the sheets, my clothes.  (I would end up wearing my sweats that way for the next 3 days.)  I could hold on no longer!!!  For a brief second I was able to glance at Steve as I gasped for air.  I never want to see that pained look on his face again as long as I live.  His fingers were stuffed into his ears to protect his hearing.  I was that loud!

Someone burst into the room to see what was wrong.  I could not speak, just screech!  It hurt my good ear and infected ear alike.  I could not stop except to push air into my lungs by thrusting out my chest wall.  Soon came the IV Toradol and it did nothing.  Back on my allergy list it went.  There was a chance that it would help this time.  It did not.

Still groveling, gasping, yelping in pain, someone eventually wheeled me out of that tiny room, onto a cold elevator, up a couple of stories, and into a room outside a noisy nursing station somewhere in that massive medical center.  Room 475.  Then Steve and I were alone.  Actually I don’t remember where he was.  I could not stop the yelps and hot tears as a rather disturbed-looking nursing assistant tried to help me to the bathroom around yet another angled hospital bed, infusion pump in-tow.  [Two weeks later I would learn a possible relationship between urinating and relief of seizure attacks as each relate to the issue of dehydration.  (See https://justjuliewrites.com/2017/01/03/hydration-is-key/ for more discussion on that topic.)]  More agonizing hours brought a nurse with another pain med on my allergy list but I did not care.  The torture finally began to come down some for the first time in half a day.

What remained was a shell of a man and his wife who kissed goodnight in that darkened hospital room.  The acute phase of the Physical Trauma was coming to a close as the chronic phase of shingles was to begin for me:  now officially labeled a “medically complex patient.”  There have also been complications of severe constipation, mouth sores that spread to the inside of my mouth and throat OPPOSITE the herpes simplex inside-and-herpes zoster outside on the right side of my face.  The body rash on my torso and forearms that accompanied the Valcyclovir spread to my groin on the right when the anti-viral medication was changed to Famciclovir.  Eventually the Hospitalist/Physician’s Assistant (because I never was allowed to see an Infectious Disease Doctor as promised you see) agreed to let me try Acyclovir with an OTC remedy just hours before discharge from the hospital.  I am still on it and tolerating it.  Whew.  Most importantly, the new combinations of medications controlled the worst of the facial pain.  Two weeks later I have started to sleep more hours in a row!  Woot!  Woot!

Interestingly, I was spared virtually any neck or back pain during the entire ordeal.  I had been in the ER earlier in December with intractable back pain.  Good golly!  Hydration and the use of new antibiotics for the treatment of Lyme disease probably played a role in both the flare and alleviation of both events.  Go figure.  Or maybe it was those simple back exercises I had started in the middle of the night before going to bed that did the trick?  Who knows?  I am grateful to the Lord for some sparing during this crisis, these crises.

The Lord is like that you know.  While he promises there will be trials for Christians during our lives, he also promises that they will have purpose and meaning in His plan for our lives.  There will be grace and goodness along the way (ie. HGTV hospital hangover!).  Jesus Christ grieves over our suffering and knows it too from His beatings, stabbing, death on a cross.  I will never know the amount of Physical Trauma that He willingly endured for me, for us when He died in our place for our sins.  And one of His own, Job, endured much more with tragic losses and boils over his entire body (not just his mouth and face), before the Lord blessed him immeasurably, restored his life anew.  After the Emotional Trauma noted above from 2003, I got to experience this kind of blessing.  That gives me hope with the more recent Physical Trauma.  Knowing all of this is helping me to rebuild, heal, go on from December 18, 2016.

Gentle Reader:  to whom will you turn when your time of testing comes?  I hope and pray that you will turn to the person of Jesus Christ:  our Redeemer Who makes all things new, all things right, all things good.  Even in the worst case scenarios of life, we won’t be suffering forever you know.  Our pain will not be wasted.  How about if we spend our lives worshipping the Lord together?

My God is Jesus Christ.  I can’t think of a better Person to place at the top the list of who I want to spend eternity with when the time comes.  It might even be soon ya know . . . JJ