For many, Christmas is a season of joy, of hope and merriment. For others, it is a reminder of heartache, of loss, of pain. Ten years ago I found myself right in the middle of these two camps.
Four days before Christmas, I found myself going into early labor and delivering my firstborn. Six weeks preterm. The joy of becoming a mother for the first time was short-lived as a flurry of nurses surrounded my baby girl, whisking her away to the NICU.
Born at 34 weeks, her lungs were not fully developed, her breathing labored and erratic. For the first day, I could only stare at her through a window since she was isolated in a small temperature-controlled room in the NICU.
I faced the fear that maybe she wouldn’t make it at all. I faced the guilt that I had done something to start my labor early.
A whole day passed before I was allowed go in that little box of a room to even touch her. I remember how quickly her little back was rising and falling, fighting for every single breath. Truth be told, she was breathing so fast I don’t know how any oxygen made it into her tiny lungs.
Two days later I was finally able to hold her. Even then, it was only by permission of the NICU nurses. For two weeks, I needed permission to hold my own daughter. On Christmas Day, I sat and sat and sat, just staring at her tiny form. Wishing for nothing more than to hold her.
On Year’s Eve, while most people rang in the new year with friends and family, I once again sat in a rocking chair, praying that my little girl would soon breathe on her own and regulate her body temperature so we could go home once and for all.
She was just. so. small! Her tiny head to her little diapered bottom was the measure of my hand. I had never seen a tinier baby. Or a bigger miracle.
It took fourteen days but God finally answered my prayers and sent us home!
Ten years later, as we celebrate her double digits birthday, I am honored that God chose me to be her mother. We named her McKayla, which means “gift from God,” and I am often reminded of what a gift she truly is.
Every day she pushes me closer and closer to Jesus. Her heart is pure gold. And she LOVES, truly loves His people. She is kind and gentle and full of grace and forgiveness. She loves the unlovable and truly sees people the way God does.
Over the past ten years, she has made me a better person.
Last week we celebrated her birthday with a surprise trip to New York. We have some family right outside the City, and since she had never been we decided it was the perfect way to honor her tenth birthday!
We all bundled up in big coats, hats, and gloves. McKayla was especially proud to wear a new scarf that was a gift from her Mia, my mother-in-law. It was beautiful and white and looked so perfect on her! After a quick train ride we entered the Big Apple.
While my youngest ooohed and aaahed over the Christmas decorations and the city lights and all of the wonderful sights and sounds of the city, and while her father and I watched with eager anticipation to see the joy on their faces with each new experience, McKayla noticed the people, the broken and oft-forgotten people.
Homeless men and women, hurting and hungry, crowding into doorways, hovering in alleys. While most people look past this group of people, McKayla looked right at them. She made eye contact and smiled, and her heart broke for them a little more each time!
Every hour or so, she would once again bring up the fact that she was so sad they didn’t have a home or even a warm meal every day. And she repeated again and again that she wished she could just do something to help.
At one point, we walked by a younger woman slouched against a building, drawing in a sketchpad. She was pregnant and had to be freezing in a thin sweatshirt. The temperature was down to 20 degrees with the wind chill.
As we walked by, McKayla tugged on my arm and stopped walking. “Mom, stop!” she said. “I can’t do this again. I can’t walk by and just do nothing!”
Looking into my little girl’s eyes, so full of compassion and empathy, I have never been more proud of her! So there we stood on a crowded street in New York City, knowing action was needed but not knowing how to tangibly help.
McKayla decided to take off her own scarf and give it to the young woman. Her sparkly scarf that she was so excited to wear! That scarf was nothing compared to helping someone in need.
In the span of two minutes, I watched my little girl be the hands and feet of Jesus. She took something so valuable and precious to her, and offered it to someone who needed it far more than she ever would.
I pray that my heart hurts for the broken the way McKayla’s did that day. I pray that I will always give with an open hand to others. That I will not cling tightly to things or money, but I will see them as things to be given as a blessing to others.
I pray that I can see others’ needs as greater than my own. And that I always view others with empathy instead of judgement.
The week of Christmas is always a bitter-sweet time for me. Our story ended happily-ever-after. Her days were numbered in the NICU. And every day since then, her life has been an inspiration to me and all who know her.
But many others had far longer and more complicated stays in the NICU, visiting for months and months before their little ones could go home. Still other families never left the hospital with their babies in tow.
My heart breaks for those who spend the holidays mourning lost loved ones, grieving the loss of a parent, a spouse, a sibling, a friend.
So today as I celebrate the life of my miracle baby, I will pray for those who are hurting.
And as you celebrate the holidays with your families, remember the hurting neighbors and co-workers and friends. Send them a quick text or card to let them know you are thinking of them and praying for them.
May we always remember those who might be hurting and broken. May we always refuse to keep walking and do nothing. May we always be compelled to love others in real, tangible ways.