There is a stirring in my heart that has begun. Days ago we got our first snow, prompting me to get out the tree a little early. To bring in the aura of Christmas before the turkey was even bought (as if I cook a turkey anyway). But my planters are still on the deck. The pillows are still on the outdoor furniture and I was not quite ready for the seasons to change. But they did and they do.
So this stirring, it is found in the looking at this tree. In the remembering of all the things this tree has seen and in the wondering of the things it has yet to see. I have found I cannot sit alone with this tree and not be overcome by emotion. For there, in the silence, I begin to walk back through the Christmases.
It was 2011: Izzy had just been diagnosed on the 23rd. Surgery was scheduled for the 27th. We sat around the tree that morning in a puddle, neither child knowing why. That morning there was devastation.
It was 2012: Izzy had been discharged from the hospital on Christmas Eve. She had been in ICU in septic shock from a line infection. Once things had settled down they sent her home for a week. She was scheduled for Stem Cell Transplant on the 31st and would spend four consecutive months in Cincinnati. We were afraid of the months ahead but so grateful for her life. That morning there was thanksgiving.
It was 2013: Treatment had ended just two months ago. The nightmare was over. That morning there was joy.
It was 2014: Izzy had been in remission for over a year. It was starting to feel like I might not wake up every day wondering if the cancer would come back. That morning there was peace.
I put the tree up on Saturday and I went three whole days before wondering: how many more Christmases with Izzy will it see? The question broke me.
My brain tells me not to go there. My heart tells me to stay in the present and cherish every second I have with her. My spirit tells me to have hope, to have faith. But there is a thread that ties all of those pieces of me together. A thread that keeps those pieces in tact on days when they might otherwise fall apart. That thread is the core of who I am. It is knotted with deep pain and deep fear and it comes from the spool of reality.
Keep it light, right? Just talk about the everyday, right? This has been the everyday this week. It has been mine but it has not been hers.
She was so excited about the first snow. So excited about the setting up of this tree. She sat on the couch and watched as Kendrick slowly lifted it in the air piece by piece. She watched the lights as they were wound and the berries, and delicately she began to lay out each ornament in order that she would hang them. She pulled each one from the container, making piles: ‘favorites,’ ‘sort of favorites,’ ‘ones she was willing to hang but didn’t really like’ and ‘ones she wasn’t interested in at all.’ She was getting so anxious during the placing of the lights that she suggested perhaps our tree didn’t actually need lights at all. But once we turned them on she changed her mind and was ecstatic about their twinkle.
After the tree was complete she asked for the Nativity set which we had not really wanted to tackle on this impromptu Christmas decorating day. Still we got it out and she set under the tree, carefully placing each shepherd, each goat, each wise man around the Savior with care. Carter came out of his room for all of five minutes and found the whole thing entirely too boring which did not surprise me for a nine year old boy.
I am learning to be okay with the differences in who they are and in where they are. Learning to be okay that Carter’s Christmas list is over a thousand dollars long and Izzy’s is still completely blank. What could she possible ask for? She has everything she wants and the very thing she needs, well the doctors say it’s off the table for her. I know the current state of Izzy’s health is confusing. We keep getting good scans, what they call ‘stable’ scans. But her medical chart reads: Stage IV Relapsed Neuroblastoma. And to the medical community that means: terminal. But she is here today and she remains vibrant as ever.
As I was laying on the couch yesterday, looking up at the tree that has seen so much of our life, I noticed the cross that is above it. My thoughts stopped. My perspective broadened. I realized that cross in my living room has not just seen our months of December, it has seen all of January through November as well. It has seen every day.
The cross has witnessed Izzy as she has lay on the couch with Kendrick holding her tub to vomit. But it has also seen her sit on the floor with her American Girl dolls. It has seen Carter as he lay on the floor with a book to take him somewhere, anywhere and yet watched him run through the room with his friends laughing. It has seen me on the couch typing hours at a time and watched me stand in the kitchen drinking glass after glass of wine, trying desperately to numb the pain. It has seen the mornings before school, the nights before bed. The board games, the puzzles, the laughter, the tears. It has seen it all.
Emmanuel: God with us. Always. Not just on the bad days. Not just on the good days. Not just the desperate or the victorious. Not just on the days we’re proud of or the days we’re ashamed of. It sees everyday. And it sticks around. Emmanuel.
Happy Thanksgiving. Emmanuel and LIFE for IZZY.