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The empty Christmas stocking

Christmas stockings

The boy of seven awakes excited that Christmas has finally come! It is 5:30 a.m. His parents are still in bed.

He knocks at their bedroom door. No answer. He calls out to them. “Mom, dad, it’s time to wake up! It’s Christmas!” Both parents are fast asleep. They have been busy wrapping up Christmas presents until 2;30 a.m. They didn’t want their child to know what Christmas presents he is getting. No matter where they hid the few presents they could give him, Bobby always found them. They were determined this year that he would not find his presents. They took them to their neighbour’s home and hid them there.

Late in the evening when Bobby was sleeping they snuck over with the two presents he would receive Christmas morning. They could only afford two because the husband was diagnosed with cancer and couldn’t work. His company where he worked on an asembly line for making office equipment had no health insurance plan.

Bobby shouts at the top of his lungs. “Mom, dad, get up! It’s Christmas!”

His parents open their eyes rubbing them. They both yawn and do a morning stretch, not wanting to face the day so early.

His mother calls out. “Okay, Bobby, we’re up. Give us a moment to pull ourselves together.”

Bobby sighs muttering a quick prayer to God. “God, please have mom and dad come out and be happy about Christmas. They’ve been so sad. Lord, why don’t  you make my dad all better?”The boy cries uncontrollably. He fights back the tears, but they keep coming.

Bobby’s parents hear him crying. The husband lays still, quite ill in bed. He knows that his son needs him. The mother says she will go out and comfort Bobby.  The husband insists on being there to ease Bobby’s sadness.

Both husband and wife hug each other. They quickly give the day to God in a short prayer. Bobby’s need to be embraced and deeply loved is so great, that they agree they will spend more time wih God later in the day. The Holy Spirit speaks to their hearts that their main ministry is to Bobby.

The wife tries so hard to be joyful. She will have some painful and bitter news for Bobby after Christmas, but not now. After Christmas she and her husband will have to have the toughest talk with Bobby ever. The husband has stage four cancer that has spread to his lungs. The palliative care oncologist told them the husband has three months to live.

They have no home insurance.  The bills for the husband’s medical care that the government doesn’t cover keep rising. They have been sent a final notice from the bank, that as of the new year they will forclose on their home.Their friends and family are all poor. No help arrives.

Both parents come staggering out of their sleep to the door. The husband wheezes because the cancer is now affecting his breathing.

Even as the husband struggles with his breathing, he picks Bobby up in his arms. He says, “Bobby, we love you. Don’t be sad, son. I want you to be happy this Christmas. I know we don’t have much to give you, but Bobby we have a gift far more precious than any gift we could ever give you. That give is our love.

Bobby, Christmas is not about the presents. It’s about the Presence, the presence of God in our lives . Always remember, son, Christmas is about the Presence, not the presents.”

The husband tries to catch his breath, but collapses. His wife calls 911. She screams out, “My husband has collapsed. He’s stopped breathing.” The 911 operator says, “Do you know how to do C.P.R.?” She hesitates, tryting to pull herself together.  “Yes”, she says. The 911 operator says help is on he way.

The wife starts performing C.P.R. No matter how hard she tries there is no movement in her husband’s chest. His lips are turning blue from lack of oxygen.

The five minutes it takes for the paramedics to arrive seems like an eternity.  They arrive and go up the stairs to the bedroom where the husband lays on the floor.

They work feverishly to get the husband’s heart started again.  They get a faint, a very faint heartbeat.

The mother calls their next door neighbour, asking them to look after Bobby because she must go to the hospital to be with her husband.

She drops Bobby off at the neighbour. She gives him a hug as the torrent of tears comes that he can no longer stop. She knows Bobby needs her more than ever, but her husband also needs her. She has no choice but to deliver Bobby to the neighbour and go to the hospital.

As she races to the hospital thoughts go racing through her mind, flashes of beautiful memories shared together with her husband. Their first kiss, falling in love after they meet at a church Bible Study, their marriage where both of them sang the hymn In the Garden.

The wife arrives at the hospital. She tells an ER nurse she is there to see her husband. The nurse pages the doctor in charge of his care.

Dr. Williams come out. He trained at the University of Belfast and had come to Canada because most of his family was living there.

He comes out of the ER with a grave expression. He had come to know the husband and his wife quite well. He attended the same church as them. The husband and him were kindred spirits. They both loved fishing together. Dr. Williams would tell him tales of his life; of how he pulled one prank after he other that nearly got him kicked out of medical school.

He told the husband that he took a skeleton and put it in the Dean’s office chair. Memories of all the jokes and stories they shared together flashed in his mind. Dr. Williams fights back his own tears.

“Susan, I need you to sit down. I have…”  “No! No! Jim’s dead. Jim’s dead. Jim’s dead.” She kept on repeating the sentence over and over again.

Dr. Williams can control his tears no longer. He struggles to pull himself together. He fights back his own tears. Susan needs him. He will fall apart later.

Dr. Williams says, “Susan, we did our very best to save Jim, but it was too late. Please , you and Bobby come and stay with us for as long as you like. I know you’re a proud woman. I’ve been carrying this Christmas card around for over a week meaning to give it to you. Let me open it for you.

Dr. Williams reaches into his suit jacket inside pocket. He pulls out the Christmas card.

He thinks it strange that the Lord should call upon him to read the thought contained in the Christmas card. Susan needs to be comforted. She needs to be listened to. But he fights against his own logical mind and begins to read.

“Susan, I know that Jim will soon meet his Lord in Heaven. I prayed about how I could give you a gift that would be meaningful for you in the tinme of your sorrow.

It was then that the thought came to me to tell you about a lesson I learned as a young lad in Sunday School. Our teacher told us the story of the empty Christmas stocking. There were two. One was Faith. The other was Hope, but one was missing – Love. It is the love God calls us to give to others. The great love chapter of I Corinthians , chapter 13 teaches us as you know, that the greatest gift we can offer to others is love.

Susan, Cathy and I have prayed about this. We want to offer you and Bobby a gift of enduring love. We will pay all the mortgage arrears on your home and give you the gift of insurance coverage, so you and Bobby will not lose your home. Here’s a cheque for $25,000.

We have also covenanted with God that until you can get on your feet financially, we will provide for all of your needs as long as is needed.

You see, Susan, I have never forgotten the story of the empty stocking. None of us should live our life without love because that is God’s greatest gift to us -Love that was clothed in human flesh. Love calls us all to love all people, rich or poor, the healthy and the sick, the able-bodied and the disabled, the addict and the prostitute. They are all God’s gift to us.

Please accept this gift not as charity, but as a gift of the love God called upon us to give to you.”

Susan through her stream of tears accepts the card as Dr. Williams hands it to her.

Six months go by. Dr. Williams recommends Susan for a job working at the hospital  as a medical secretary. She gets the job.

Susan and Bobby move out of the Williams home and go back to face the memories every day of the life Jim, Bobby and her once knew.

Susan goes on to become a nurse and then years later a doctor herself. She is determined to give back the gift of love Dr. Williams gave her seven years ago.

She goes on to establish a foundation called the Empty Stocking. This charitable organization’s sole mission is to help families in crisis.

In Susan and Bobby’s home each Christmas they hang three stockings. One is Faith. The other is Hope and the empty stocking is Love.

I leave you with this thought from the Bible.  “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13, New International Version).

Love. That’s an empty stocking we all need to fill.

P.S. Perhaps, you could show this story to your local politician, especially those in the United States could send it to their state member of congress. The story is fictitious, but it is based upon actual events from my own life, and that of members of my own family. 

It is my prayer that the politicians sit down together in a spirit of non-partisan politics and work out their differences over Obama care. This should not be treated as a political issue, but moreover as a human issue affecting the quality of life for millions of Americans.

Even here in Canada we don’t have the utopia of universal health care that many people have been falsely led to believe.  Many people with chronic health conditions have no coverage for medications such as many cancer drugs.

On a personal level I continue with my own struggle to get the medications I need to treat what doctors believe is a very rare auto immune condition called systemic mastocytosis. This simply means I have too many mast cells. These are the cells that form part of your immune system and are in your tissues. I have been intubated eight times likely as a result of this condition.

I am greatly improving under the care received at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto. A caring friend is providing for the cost of our eight hour trips to Toronto as well as helping with some of the cost for a series of mast cell regulators.

This improvement is  with no thanks whatsoever to the Wynne government in Ontario.

This Christmas fill the empty stocking of love with your compassion for those who need your help. They’ll be glad you filled their empty stocking.