I will post our family Christmas letter tomorrow. It is a run-of-the-mill, holiday brag letter extolling all of the good things of 2013. Yeah, it’s one of those look-how-wonderful-we-are pieces that comedians joke about and some people hate. Know what? I’m not at all sorry I wrote it.
The ancient book of Scriptures that have shaped my life include a passage in the book of Joel that reads,
“I’ll make up for the years of the locust,
the great locust devastation—
Locusts savage, locusts deadly,
fierce locusts, locusts of doom,
That great locust invasion
I sent your way.
You’ll eat your fill of good food.
You’ll be full of praises to your God,
The God who has set you back on your heels in wonder.
When grasshoppers swarm through a field of crops they take everything. They strip every grain from every stalk of wheat and leave complete desolation. We don’t understand it well in today’s culture but it would be like walking into every market in your region to find all the shelves completely bare with no hope of new deliveries until next year. Nothing.
I remember Christmas just two years ago when my family gathered at our house because I was not strong enough to travel. We sat in a large circle in our former garage now family room and played Christmas trivia games for prizes. I was thankful being with them and free from the hospital for a bit. My End Stage Liver Disease had stripped me of my energy and left me always struggling to stay warm. The locusts of cirrhosis robbed my sense of humor and left agitation and anger in their wake. My near constant pain kept me relying on small white pills for relief. I tried my best to join in.
I wasn’t all that concerned about the games. I was simply thankful to be there for what I was fairly sure was my last Christmas. I had grown pretty doubtful that I would get the transplant I needed in time. Even the prospect of a living donor seemed to be dragging much more slowly than my disease was advancing. We refused to allow negative talk but just under the surface of our celebration was a thick sadness that we fought to suppress.
My family always cries joyful tears at Christmas but this year the tears were different. I remember that Robin and I had no money to spend on gifts. The expense of my treatment had us relying on food pantries, gift cards, friends and family to meet our needs. Still, we worked to be creative in giving meaningful gifts that we made or baked. Of course, no one minded.
I remember watching my forever-positive, faith-driven sister Gail open the gift I gave her. Gail would not allow even a word of doubt about the future. She firmly stood against any of us who dared express fear that I might not live to see another Christmas.
My gift to her was simple. It cost less than $2.00. Tears came fast when she tore open the paper to see a 5×7 photograph of she and I dancing cheek-to-cheek at my daughter’s wedding just six months before. Even now I have tears resting under my eyes as I type the story. The unspoken message of love between us was simple.
My gift said, “No matter what, remember me. Remember laughing. Remember dancing. Remember what we’ve shared and smile.”
We cried. My wife cried. My sister Gloria cried. For a moment, we let our guard down and let our tears admit that my future was uncertain.
This year I wrote a Christmas brag letter. Nineteen months after transplant the Lord is restoring the years the locusts have eaten and life has largely returned to normal. Today I have to watch my weight rather than choke down protein shakes to maintain. I get up every day and go to work. My wife and I are closer than ever and enjoy each other knowing that every day is a bonus.
Life is good again. Very good.
My prayer for you, my reader, is that you know that life can be good again regardless of what you are going through. Even if the Lord had not spared my life I am certain that life would be good again for those left behind.
The Lord will restore the years the locusts have eaten. You can have Hope.
My God has set me back on my heels in wonder.