As my family returns from the hospital after serving meals (per Rebecca’s Christmas wish) to countless hurting hospital families, I am reminded of what a gift it is to leave that hospital and sleep under the same roof with my entire family and in the warmth of my very own bed. No beeping machines, no vitals checks, no dreaded test results, and no fear of potential death looming each hour.
Our God is a God of miracles. I know that, I see that. But sometimes miracles are not found in the healing we so desperately pray for. Sometimes miracles are found in the form of our Lord’s quiet reassurance that He is there by sending humankind to love us in our time of need. And by these profound acts of compassion, we see God as if He were the one Himself dishing food to our hungry souls and holding us as we weep in anguish.
I learned this lesson first-hand on Christmas day 2012:
The bountiful trays of sustenance came flooding through the hospital hallways – one more laden with food than the next. I watched as virtual strangers approached me, introduced themselves and stated the call they felt pressed upon them. A call to provide joy to weary soldiers on this day of all Christmas days.
I was overwhelmed. It was not 24 hours before when I struggled to imagine how I was possibly going to feed 40 souls – a combination of sick children accompanied with their siblings and parents. My hospital room was certainly not outfitted with a commercial kitchen, or a kitchen at all for that matter, and all the restaurants in town were closed to catering on this special holiday.
But I made a promise.
I witnessed first-hand how miserable holidays could be trapped in a medical institution. This past Thanksgiving parents walked around in circles, wearing their grief as their shoulders hunched toward the floor. Family time was spent hovering over a sick child’s bed as opposed to the turkey-topped table the rest of the nation enjoyed. No food, no joyful smiles, no merriment to be had. Loneliness abounded and sadness reigned as it encircled and filled the minds of all unwitting hospital captives.
Surely there was a better way to celebrate this day of thankfulness?
Things should be different, they needed to be different.
If we spent another holiday in the hospital, I vowed to Rebecca we would find a way to celebrate – regardless of our circumstance, despite our location.
I just never expected that challenge to happen so soon.
Here we were, a mere month later facing Christmas season with no hope of early discharge. This was not what I wanted. This was not what I asked for. And this most certainly was not the holiday I envisioned for my three young children. Who grows up dreaming of celebrating Christmas in the hospital?
YET HERE I WAS.
I could wallow but what purpose would it serve? Would I feel better? Would my boys find joy in my self-pity? Would my daughter thrive within my depression? Would my husband become inspired by my despondency? The answer to all these questions was a resounding ‘NO.’
So we would celebrate, and we would celebrate on a grand scale. But how was it possible to supply enough joy in a hospital wing to lessen insurmountable sorrow?
Only through God.
And so we prayed these verses from Isaiah for those living out their affliction:
“He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted….to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve.”
This was the miracle we asked for.
We called in the ‘troops,’ told them our party plans, and started to work.
Rebecca created homemade gifts with every waking moment she had, friends and family rallied to prepare for a festive celebration for 40, and Christmas Eve was a flutter of installing decorations and rehearsing carols.
On Christmas morning, the patients awoke with excitement eagerly anticipating the upcoming celebration by donning their finest attire, even if that simply meant a bright colored scarf draped around their hospital gown. Nurse Jessica braided Rebecca’s hair, patient Alicia received a lace-edged party gown from her mother, and patient Brad combed and gelled his hair for the first time in months.
But we were going to be short on food – there was barely enough planned to feed 40 people and what if a new child with her family was admitted? Strict instructions were given to my family to hold off eating until we fed those around us first. As the festivities began, family and friends took their designated spots to serve.
And then something quite extraordinary happened, something a tad miraculous.
I watched as ‘helpers’ began to pour through the hallways, some looked vaguely familiar, some completely unknown. They came bearing large trays of nourishment and giant bags of toys. I stood in awe as we were forced to add four more tables in order to hold the over-abundance of food that cascaded in. There were so many presents, a physical therapy room became a staging ground to hold the deluge of generosity. Not only did the patients receive gifts but all siblings and visiting family members did as well. We were over-flowing.
Soon we realized the wealth we possessed in our corner of the hospital, so my parents recruited the other pediatric floors, one by one, to share in our prosperity.
All the while Rebecca, loving the role as hostess from her wheelchair, handed out an endless supply of gifts from a bag that kept producing, while tables continually appeared with more pies, more turkey, and more sweet potatoes.
Smiles abounded, laughter rang through the air, and crowds of well-wishers hugged and comforted the hurting. It was a wonderworking sight.
Who were these people that brought such generosity and where did they come from? When asked, they simply stated they heard about Rebecca’s party and felt called to help.
Messengers – sent by God to deliver compassion to those in need.
By the end of the night, after everyone had their second and third helpings of food and the patient rooms were filled with toys, I laid a fresh table of provisions to serve the night staff.
Walking back in the room, I shook my head – still processing the inexplicable events of the day. I told friends to bring food for 40. Without counting the hospital night staff, we fed well over 200 people. A good portion of the food provided by people I had never met.
When I voiced my thoughts to Rebecca she matter-of-factly said, “Mom, God knew how many people were going to eat today and He told everyone to bring the food needed. What is so confusing?”
Of course. Like the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus found a way to provide the needs of an entire pediatric hospital that Christmas – food shortage, toy shortage, and all.
God called His children to “bind the brokenhearted, comfort those who mourned, and provide for those who grieved.” So that we would feel comforted, so that we would feel taken care of, so that we would feel loved.
Our unexpected miracle.
Thank you Lord.