Despite the decorations and the upbeat tunes, my heart struggled to conjure festive feelings this Christmas. There were thoughtful gifts and sweet hours playing games with each other, and I count those moments as gifts. However, I could not help but see Christmas through the eyes of my dear mother-in-law. And, through her eyes, the Lord gave me the gift of seeing Christmas through the eyes of caregivers.
Decorations don’t change diseases; they barely scratch the surface. And when the cookies stop coming, the need for constant care does not. As strange as it sounds, visiting my in-laws gave me the best gift for Christmas: the Christmas season stripped of its frivolity and bathed in deep faith.
To watch a spouse spend herself to care for her husband who has been hounded by fifteen years by an unrelenting disease is to watch a thing of terrible beauty. To see the fierce resolve of exhausted parents advocate for their child with cancer is to get a glimpse of the kind of love that initiated what we know as Christmas.
The wonderful monotony of sustained love puts sentimental surges of love to shame. For a burst of love as compared with committed love is like a firework as compared to the constancy of the sun. Love that keeps showing up and cleaning the sheets. Love that keeps providing for an adult child with special needs during years that are more associated with traveling around the world than traveling to doctor’s appointments. Love that learns to laugh and roll with the punches of Alzheimer’s and dementia. This love which remains resolute is a common grace that points to an uncommon Savior.
She smiles as he sips
His imaginary tea.
This isn’t what she thought
The end of years would be.
Though she dreams of travel,
Just to help him down the hall,
Traveling from bed to bath
Everyday requires all.
There’s little time for plans;
His care takes centerstage.
Neither disease nor decline
Such love will assuage.
For love stays at its station,
Even when sorrows close in.
When energy is threadbare,
Commitment doesn’t thin.
She smiles as he sips
His imaginary tea.
He will know he’s loved
No matter what will be.
Such solid and sacrificial love shows the thinness of sentimental love. And I’ve a feeling that the tired feet of caregivers hitting the ground in the middle of the night more closely approximate the Christmas spirit than the feet of rushed shoppers in the mall.
Wreathed Doors and Wrecked Dreams
Delicious cookies and debilitating disease;
Decorated trees and displaced refugees.
Only Christ can reconcile all of these.
Wreathed doors and wrecked dreams.
Sweetly-sung carols and silent screams.
Only Christ can contain such extremes.
True hope does not ride on holiday cheer.
Real joy is not procured just once a year.
Security is anchored in God-come-near.
This Christmas, I found myself exhaling the deep relief of caregivers who fall exhausted upon an inexhaustible Rock of Ages. This Christmas, I found myself with front row seats to the reality that new mercies every morning really means every morning. Even for thousands of days of caregiving and months of appointments.
The Christmas gift that caregivers most need is the truth that Christ keeps the keepers and cares for the caregivers (Psalm 121; Isaiah 27:1-6). As they carry heavy burdens, caregivers need to know that the God of the universe carries them (Isaiah 46:3). As they comb and wash graying hairs, they need to know that even to their gray hairs, God will keep them (Isaiah 46:4). As they keep vigil by hospital bedsides, listening to what could be last words, they need to constantly reopen the gift of Jesus’s last words to us in the Scriptures: “Surely, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20).
There aren’t many Christmas carols sung from the perspective of caregivers, but there should be. For they, more than most, know the need for the One born to die that death might die. Thank you, caregivers, for the glimpse you have given me this Christmas into our Christ. It was the gift I didn’t know I needed.