We finally got to go home for nine days and were able to enjoy the longest break we’ve ever had. Monday we came back for this last round of chemo but our time home was wonderful. Not knowing for sure how long we’d be gone and whether or not we’d make it back for Thanksgiving, I had put up our Christmas Tree earlier in the week. I always put it up the weekend after Thanksgiving and for all I knew we might not be home until a week or so after that. It was important to me that it still went up. Not just because I like things done a certain way and it would drive me nuts if it wasn’t up, but because the last time I had seen it I had felt the most devastating pain.
It was December 23rd last year when we found out about the cancer, yet we were forced to wait until December 27th to have surgery or even stand face to face with a doctor to find out what it meant. Four days I looked at that tree while my kids danced merrily around it with excitement. Four days I fought desperately not to ruin their spirits by revealing to them that my insides had just been torn apart. I managed to keep it together while in the hospital but when I walked in the front door I fell apart. The sight of that tree made me feel like I was reliving those four days all over again. I walked upstairs to my bedroom to take a nap and told Kendrick to get it out of the house. I didn’t care if he threw it all away but when I came back downstairs I didn’t want to see a single sign of Christmas.
This year it was important to me that our tree went up because I was not about to let cancer steal something else from me. I love Christmas. I love the entire season and I don’t want it to be forever tainted by last year’s experience. Putting up our tree on November 5th allowed me to take something back from cancer. Something for our entire family. Sure I put the tree up a little crooked and maybe it was missing the skirt, but I didn’t care. Because when I looked at it I didn’t feel the trauma that I felt last year. I felt joy. For me, being able to enjoy the season that celebrates Christ’s birth into the world is non-negotiable. Cancer does not get that.
As I’ve mentioned before, Izzy loves babies, but Baby Jesus, the most famous baby in the world, is her favorite. (And I like to think it’s not just because He’s gotten so much publicity). All the talk about Christmas got her excited about Baby Jesus again. She got out her Little Tikes Nativity Set and started playing with it all the time when we were home. It was one of the first things she packed for this admission. She’s reenacted the scene at least twice a day.
The thing about Izzy, is that she’s taken everything she knows about God and Jesus and Christmas, rolled it all together and come up with her own theology on heaven. It’s unique, perhaps a bit odd but it’s beautiful. It wasn’t until our hamster died last spring that I realized what was going on.
Cocoa had died a few days before and the four of us were walking in the house from the car. Out of the blue she asked, “I wonder if Mary and Jesus will put Cocoa on the cake?” Having no idea what she was talking about I looked down and asked what cake she was talking about. “Baby Jesus’ birthday cake,” she said, looking at me like I was a complete idiot.
“You mean Cocoa is in heaven with Mary and Joseph?” I asked, starting to sort of understand.
“They take care of all the animals,” she said. “And are getting ready for Baby Jesus’ birthday party.” The way she said it was so matter of fact. Like we had told her all this stuff and then given her the stable with a bunch of farm animals so why didn’t we get it. “Do you think Cocoa will be on His cake?” she asked again, getting back to her original question.
“Probably so,” I said with a smile. For Izzy the whole Nativity Scene was just constantly going on in heaven. All year long Mary and Joseph were just taking care of farm animals planning a birthday party. I guess it’s understandable where she came up with the idea. After all we did tell her that Jesus was the Son of God and they are in heaven, and then tell her that Joseph was Jesus’ dad and hand her a stable. ??? It’s very confusing stuff. And besides, I’ve never read anything in the bible that says there isn’t a stable in heaven anyway. Talk of heaven like this was cute.
With the big birthday party just around the corner, there has been a lot of talk about Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus around our family. And all but one conversation has been, well cute. But one conversation left me speechless, staring at my crooked Christmas tree.
The kids and I were sitting on the couch one morning talking about nightmares when Carter said, “Sometimes I’ve been wondering what it would be like if we were all dead.” I sat stunned not sure where this was coming from. I probed him a little but again he said, “I just wonder what would happen if we were all dead.”
I thought for a moment. I had about three seconds to figure out how to explain that God has given us life and wants us here for a reason, but delicately, being sure not to say anything that I would regret later. I did my best. Izzy just listened to us and Carter continued to question. “But what if we weren’t alive?”
I felt my heart pounding in my chest, “Well, when God is ready for us to come back to Him, we will go up to heaven.” That was enough for Carter. He said nothing more, but Izzy, her eyes lit up at my last sentence.
“I can’t wait to go to heaven! It will be so fun to see Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus and all the animals!” She clutched her hands together at her chest and smiled from ear to ear. I sat speechless staring at the Christmas tree trying desperately to pull it together for a response. This conversation about heaven was anything but cute. My heart that had been pounding stood still. I didn’t want to talk to Izzy about things like death or heaven because it made me afraid. But the truth was it didn’t make her afraid. It made her happy. Finally, I put my hand on her back and said, “Yes, heaven will be amazing and I know they will be excited to see you too.”
Like any parent, I would say my Izzy is one remarkable little girl. As she sat in her hospital bed this week and reenacted Baby Jesus’ birth over and over again I felt a vast array of emotions once again. She wasn’t just playing the nativity. She was playing heaven.
I will leave you with a surprise that Izzy and the music therapist left for me this week. I’ll say nothing more, I’ll let Izzy speak for herself.