PATHWAY TO HIS PRESENCE
Before my mother-in-law left for heaven, she was trapped in her limited body by a debilitating stroke. For four-and-a-half years, she lay motionless in the bed, unable to speak or communicate.
Christmas came. Roy and I traveled from sunny South Georgia to the snow laden streets of Burlington, Michigan, our first time to see his mother after her stroke. Mr. Funk greeted us with a huge hug before we walked into the living room of the old farmhouse, the dark walls mirroring the wood stove’s orange glow. This living room always held family memories, but on this night, it held medicinal memories. Rubbing alcohol, herbal supplements, vapor rub and others. It had been transformed into a hospital room where Roy’s mother lay. Low lights and complete silence called us to want to turn the darkness to light. But, how? It seemed impossible How are you? sounded cruel. Merry Christmas sounded inappropriate.
As we walked to her bedside, her limited eye contact was startling as was her inability to welcome us. We weren’t prepared for a silent Eleanor Funk. Nor that her left arm would not reach up to welcome us as she lay under the covers. It seemed we had nothing to give her but our stares of unbelief and grief. We felt helpless and overwhelmed.
The next morning, Roy and his dad went outside to repair some farm equipment. I pulled up a chair by my mother-in-law’s left side, gently stroking her soft face. Suddenly, as if guided by an unseen hand, I opened my Bible and began reading the Christmas story from the book of Luke. Likely, my words would fall on unreceptive ears. Even as powerful as these words would be, my heart just wasn’t in it.
“In that region there were shepherds living in the field keeping watch over their flocks by night.” Luke 2:8
Eleanor moved her head toward mine. Wait a minute! Eleanor moved her head! She looked straight at me! I continued reading.
“But the angel said unto them, ‘Do not be afraid. I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people. To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.’” Luke 2:11
Eleanor locked eyes with me. Wait a minute! Eleanor locked eyes with me! Her stare never wavered as I continued reading through verse 40, my head bobbing up and down from her eyes to the Bible and back again.
“The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon Him.” Luke 2:40.
I could not hold back the tears. Suddenly, the beauty of the Christmas story fell all over me, and it was as if I were hearing this Scripture for the first time. I drank in the truth that God loved me enough to send a Savior.
She still watched as I grabbed a tissue. We were now sitting – not in a room of medicinal odors – but in the very presence of God. Eleanor and I had suddenly stepped off of earth and onto Holy Ground.
Then, the real miracle happened.
I heard the sheet rustling as Eleanor slowly moved her left arm out from the covers and reached for my hand. We sat there, caught in a divine moment. Our eyes were locked and our hands warmed in the other’s embrace. I didn’t say anything. She couldn’t say anything.
It was the most beautiful conversation I ever had with my mother-in-law.
Every day we were there, I read the Bible to her.
Other family members took their turn. For those of us gathered around her bedside, we learned anew the true meaning of Christmas. It was not in the Christmas tree. There wasn’t one. Nor in cookies. There weren’t any. Nor in presents or lights.
The essence of Christmas, however, shone around her bedside, its brilliance warming our hearts and causing us to reevaluate, even to rededicate, our lives in those short hours with Eleanor. Christmas was everything it needed to be. Jesus was everything He needed to be. He was and is all the world to mankind.
As He was to Eleanor. As He is to you. As He is to me.
Jesus is all the world to me,
My life, my joy, my all;
He is my strength from day to day,
Without Him I would fall. (Will Thompson)
It was a sufficient Christmas indeed!
In fact, more than sufficient.
The Rev. B.J. Funk is associate pastor of Central UMC in Fitzgerald. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.