A Christmas to Remember

Three lessons in the midst of a painful season

This December my family and I are preparing not for Christmas, but for major surgery. Again. It's the third year in a row. It changes everything about our December … and our winter. Last year the Christmas tree went up in November and it didn't come down until March!

Moving into the third "December surgery," it's easy for fear to override the festivities and heartache to replace the holiday fun. Our 13-year-old son, Joseph, was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. Although he's had 12 surgeries, this one will be the seventh in 14 years that scar tissue has anchored itself to his spinal cord causing pain and problems with his back, legs, and bladder.

The surgery is scheduled for December 15 to best reduce school absences. The hospital stay will last about a week. He'll be laid low for about three and back to normal in six to eight weeks. Last year, complications erupted at every turn. He was in the hospital for four, one-week stays and missed 12 weeks of school before he was back on his feet.

The toll on our family was extensive. The hospital is three hours from our home, making the havoc and upheaval constant. We're a little gun shy about this upcoming surgery. The pain of last winter is still too fresh.

But Christmas is a time of chaos for everyone. Nothing new there. With exhaustion and overload the status quo from January to November, December puts many people over the edge.

When your child is facing major surgery, the pressure of holiday preparation takes a back burner. I'm off the hook in a lot of ways: reduced gifts to purchase, minimal decorations, no baking. I don't get asked to chaperone the youth group's caroling trip, to help with the Sunday school musical, or asked to bake six trillion cookies. No complaints there! People don't expect much from you. And through the years I've learned to significantly adjust the expectations I have on myself.

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May 25

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