Some days, the Christmases in my memories shine more vividly than the holidays of the present. My long ago childhood Christmases. My first Christmas as a teacher. That Christmas we were snowed in, and my male relatives rode their snowmobiles through the silent streets.
One of my best Christmas memories takes me back to a year filled with disappointments.
In that December of 2009, the Christian school where I had ministered for nineteen years had recently closed. I was out of a job and living on savings. I had just begun to try my hand at writing but had not yet connected with any writers. I felt isolated and a bit lost.
Through it all, my most encouraging supporter and official lifter-of-spirits was my best friend Nancy.
You’d expect that from a best friend of twenty years, right? But what made this unusual was that my friend Nancy was dying of breast cancer.
I had been with her almost every day of her two-year cancer journey. Somewhere along the way, God whispered a gentle word of preparation in my heart to let me know that this would be my sweet friend’s last Christmas.
Though we never spoke the truth out loud, I believe Nancy knew it, too.
In better days, Nancy had reveled in her Christmas preparations. She would sleep on the floor near the Christmas tree with her kids. Bake all her family’s favorite treats. Fill her house with decorations and presents and friends. And she loved the over-the-top Christmas decorations and frenzied pace at the malls and local stores.
For Nancy, Christmas shopping wasn’t just another chore. It was an adventure!
Of course, cancer changes things. Many days, my formerly-tireless friend could barely lift her head off the pillow. And watching my best friend prepare to leave us wasn’t exactly putting me in a holiday mood.
However, Nancy was intent on preparing one last holiday for her family. We figured it was unrealistic to expect too much. So we prayed and hoped for her to have a few hours of renewed energy. All we needed was a little bit of Christmas!
My job was to remain on stand-by. If the energy should come, I was ready to bundle her into the car and fly to our local WalMart for an impromptu shopping spree.
And that’s exactly what happened.
At the end of a particularly good day, she said, “Let’s go shopping tomorrow.” So we did.
We hid Nancy’s hairless head under a felt hat, wrapped a colorful scarf around her throat, made sure her surgical mask was in place, and headed for WalMart. Once there, she settled herself on an electric scooter, tested the controls, and away she went.
That day, the store seemed to be filled with folks who knew her. She took time to chat with every one of them. Then began the serious shopping. Nancy flew up and down the aisles, filling her basket in record time. I stopped trying to keep up with her and made myself comfortable on a bench near the checkout.
Whenever I caught a glimpse of her, she was beaming beneath her mask.
For those few hours, she could forget about medications and white blood cell counts and ports and chemo treatments. But when the day was done, so was Nancy. Almost as quickly as she’d rallied, she faded. She was already asleep by the time I left her house.
Nancy had other good days before God took her home eight weeks later. But none like that day.
Maybe that’s why I don’t react like others do when they see stores putting out their Christmas things at the end of October. For me, it’s never too early.
I’m always in the mood for a little Christmas, aren’t you?