I used to love the holidays.
The sparkle of white lights, the smell of evergreen, the sound of Bing Crosby Christmas carols.
And then I spent a Christmas in our home, while our baby lay in an incubator in a hospital an hour away.
That year, the arrival of Christmas highlighted just how “not normal” our life was at the time.
Every morning, I would drop two-year-old Tucker at daycare or the babysitter would arrive, and I would race into the hospital to spend a few precious hours with my miniature baby. Every afternoon, my husband would take a cab from his office to spend his lunch hour reading stories to his daughter. Every evening my husband, son and I would gather at the kitchen table to eat the latest gorgeous meal that had been delivered to our back door by a neighbor or friend from town.
Those elaborate meals sustained us. But they also embarrassed us.
“How will we ever repay all this kindness,” my husband frequently asked.
And the closer we came to Christmas, the more we received.
Holiday cards, beautifully wrapped ornaments, preemie outfits, icing-piped Christmas cookies.
And the more we received, the more vulnerable, helpless and obliged to return the kindness, we felt.
We even had friends offer to buy us a Christmas tree, hang wreaths from our doors and do our Christmas shopping.
To that I was able to say no.
On my daily drives into the hospital, my mind spun with possible ways to give back to others for all they’d done for us.
And then on Christmas Eve, all that changed.
We were outside the Congregational Church where we’d just attended the annual Nativity pageant. Tucker had run across the lawn to visit the crèche and all the animals he’d been admiring from afar.
He was trying to climb on the donkey’s back when another family from town strolled over. I immediately pictured the mom standing at our front door, not once, but twice, in the past month, with a lovely meal she’d prepared for our family.
I quickly readied a speech of gratitude in my head to deliver to the entire family.
But before I could begin, my friend stepped forward, cleared her throat, and began a speech of her own.
“We want to thank you,” I heard her say.
“You have been so kind to allow our family and so many others into your lives. It has meant so much to us to be able to bring meals and share in helping your family,” she said.
I stood in stunned silence squeezing Tucker’s pudgy hand in mine.
“Your family and Andie’s arrival has brought new meaning to Christmas for us this year. Thank you for receiving with such openness and grace.”
And in that moment, I learned one of the many, many lessons that would accompany our daughter’s premature birth.
That sometimes the simple act of receiving, is in fact, giving in return.
“Each day comes bearing its own gifts. Untie the ribbons.”
~ Ruth Ann Schabacker