Thirty years ago, in 1991, I was entering my first Advent and Christmas season as a new mother. I had taken in my first foster daughter, Alice, that year and we were on a ride of a lifetime. Literally! She was my journey, my ministry, my adventure, my love, and my soul.
Here are excerpts of the Christmas Letter I sent out that year…
“When I was a brand new nurse 10 years ago, I was assigned to work on the Christmas Eve/Christmas Day overnight shift as the newest staff member on the hospital floor. It was to be my very first Christmas away from family, though I’d have a few days off between Christmas and New Year’s to travel home.
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On Christmas Eve, as many patients as possible had discharged home for Christmas, so the care load was light that night. As I did my first rounds, I checked in on Mrs. Lewis, an elderly woman who was in the late stages of a terminal illness. She was a quiet, but pleasant lady and greeted me warmly. I shared that it was my first Christmas away from family and she was awake all that night for me. As I did each of my hourly checks during that 10-hour shift, I saved her for last. We shared memories and songs; it ended up being a special night.
Mrs. Lewis asked me about my Christmases and in turn, shared about her lifetime of holidays. I shared about my family and growing up in a small farming town; about going to a parochial Lutheran school and being part of the Christmas Eve church program every year with siblings and friends. The church would prepare brown lunch bags of treats for all the kids every year and hand them out after the candlelight service was over. The bags had a bit of candy, peanuts in the shell, and an orange, which was always a treat in the mid-winter in Illinois at that time. We’d take our bags home and put on new jammies and gather as a family to open presents from each other and to sing while we ate our oranges and peanuts. I told her that even after all this time, the smell of oranges this time of year can take me back.
On my next rounds, Mrs. Lewis had peeled a couple of oranges from her gift basket and we shared more stories. I talked about my brothers and sisters; she shared about her immigrant parents and her farmland growing up years. I shared about my mom and dad’s teaching and ministries and she spoke of her husband, Ollie, who had been her life for 63 years at the time he died a couple of years before. She cried a bit at his memories. She asked me about beaus (I had none for several years) and dreams for the future. I told her I planned to have a large family like the one I grew up in and she shared about their only son and about his death in the Viet Nam War. When I spoke of hoping to adopt kids for my family, she shared about the volunteer work she and her husband had done around overseas missions for orphans after their son died.
As the night passed, oh so silently and easily with story after story, I fell in love with Mrs. Lewis. On my last set of rounds, as morning was near, Mrs. Lewis had one more story to tell me. She spoke of her childhood and how her mother always had a special moment for her every year right before Christmas to talk about angels and their role in the Christmas history. She shared, with reverence that angels are real and near all the time and that we only had to have eyes to see and ears to hear their whispers and their songs. She (her mother) taught her to look for one special angel in her life every year, the one angel the brought the good news of baby Jesus and who made the miracle of his birth real in her life that year. Mrs. Lewis shared that she had taught her son the same, year by year, and about the very special angels she had experienced the Christmas after her son died to help her through that first season and again a few years ago when her life-long love had died. She took my hands in her tiny little fingers and thanked me for being her Christmas Angel for her last Christmas here on earth.
I cried all the way home… tears of blessing and joy. Mrs. Lewis died while I was with my family that week, but she has been in my heart every year since then.”
After sharing that memory in my Christmas letter 30 years ago, I went on to talk about who my Christmas Angel was that year.
“Ten years after my night with Mrs Lewis and ten years of finding angels since then, I know who my Christmas Angel is this year… my first daughter, Alice! We’ve had a year of so many firsts and so much joy and pain. But one special event stands out. Alice was baptized this fall and the day happened to fall on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. I had shared with Alice about the meaning of baptism and the presence of angels, but during a car ride one day, I realized that she thought SHE was going to be an angel when she got baptized. She told my niece, “Me be bapizen. Me be angel. Me get wings.”
Well, she didn’t get wings that day, but through all of our days this year and especially during this Advent Season, I know, without a doubt, that Alice is my Christmas Angel this year. She is the one who is showing me what grace, love, mystery, and joy is all about in a very real, Jesus-came-amongst-us way.”
Now, 30 years later, I am writing a Christmas letter for the first time in quite a while. A few of you have known me since before that long ago Christmas night with Mrs Lewis. Quite a few of you have been with us on our journey since my first holiday season as a mother. And a host of you have stepped in as my family has grown and have loved on us, prayed for us, and pitched in to help in a million ways. I think it’s safe to say that my angels are EVERYWHERE!!!!
But this year, as happens every year, one special person has become my Christmas Angel, both literally and figuratively… my father. He died this year and that, along with some very difficult journeys with my kids, keeps tugging my Christmas mood out of sorts. However, while I always loved and depended on Dad in many ways, it is only in these months since he has gone that I truly understand the role he played in this 30-year journey as a mother. He, of anyone in my life, understood my decisions and my ministry within foster care and adoption. He and Mom adored my children, every single one of them. As my journey this year continues to be very difficult in many ways, I can hear my father’s words and feel his love that has never wavered, even now that he is really one of the Saints in heaven. That is the epitome of the Christmas Angel for me… God’s love manifest in our lives.
This season, I send warm love to each of you and yours and I hope each of you has at least one special Christmas Angel in your life this year.