Being in a different place for Christmas

Christmas at church near hospitalI write this on Christmas Eve in a setting I’ve grown not just tired of, but burdened by this year: a hospital.

First, between surgeries and treatments for my wife’s breast cancer over the last year, I spend more time than I care to think about in or near hospitals. She’s doing great now and just finished her last treatment a week ago, but still, it has been a long year.

Then, in May, I spend several days in a hospital down in Bend, OR with my mom who broke her arm and had a pacemaker put in.

Now, it’s my youngest son, Connor.

Yesterday, December 23rd, we leave our home at 6:00 a.m. for a 7:50 a.m. flight to spend Christmas with family in California. On the drive to the airport, Connor, 17, suddenly cries out in agony. He has a piercing pain in his abdomen. We don’t even make it as far as the airport.

A few miles short of there, we pull into an empty parking lot. Connor rolls out of the car and onto the asphalt writhing in pain. We call 911 and soon after the EMT arrives, Connor is in an ambulance to the nearest hospital and I’m frantically racing to drop my wife and other son off at the airport. We figure there’s nothing they can do, so reluctantly they agree to catch the flight that Connor and I will never make.

I rush to the ER, find Connor and wait for doctors to give him pain medication and carry out some tests. A few hours later, they tell us that Connor has acute pancreatitis and must spend several days in the hospital.

We move him to the nearest children’s hospital (I never knew that most hospitals cannot admit minors) and eventually learn that the cause is unknown (which happens about a third of the time with this inflammation of the pancreas). However, the treatment is known: hydration through IV, no food or water, and rest along with medication for the intense pain.

So here I am, the next day, waiting with Connor, grateful for wonderful doctors and nurses, friends who have stopped by during this busy time of year and the news that Connor is feeling a bit better and that we might be able to go home tomorrow.

But here’s the odd thing: When we didn’t know what was going on, one doctor warned this could be serious, even life-threatening. So I prayed desperately for my son. And in return, you’d think through all this I would feel especially close to God. I’ve got plenty of quiet time here in the hospital and a heart filled with gratitude. And yet, where’s that warm glow and intimate sense of God’s presence, especially now at Christmas? I’m not sure.

You know the old saying, “If it feels like God is distant, guess who moved?” So this evening, I choose to try and scoot a bit closer to the Divine. I find out there is a Christmas Eve service at a church a few blocks from the hospital. I decide to go while Connor rests.

The church I visit is old (see photo above). The services, contemporary. The people are welcoming. The music, classic carols done to rock arrangements. A woman with a lovely voice reads a new but touching rendition of the Christmas story from Luke chapter 2. The pastor delivers a short, but poignant message. We pass the light of our candles to each other as we celebrate the coming of Light into our world.

And somewhere along the way, Jesus and I get reconnected in a powerful way. Was it the music? The lighting? The words spoken? Likely all the above. But most of all – apart from the sheer grace of God – it was that I was in a different place: physically, emotionally and spiritually.

This is a good reminder at Christmas that God came to a different place – our world – just to be with us. He moved closer even as we, in our proneness to wander, drift away.

Movement and place affect us more than we realize in ways both subtle and profound. But the Christmas message tonight makes me realize that no matter where that place is – even a hospital room on Christmas – we are never, ever alone.

Emmanuel. God with us. Wherever we find ourselves.

If you found this interesting, why don’t you share it with others?