Gifts of the season... and room enough to receive them
I buckled my seat belt and we drove into the night - snow on the sidewalks, houses colored with Christmas lights and a smile on my face so big it hurt. I could've been a kid heading for Disneyland I was so excited.
It wasn't just that my husband and I were heading out on a date night - something my uncooperative body and low energy levels almost never allowed these days. And it wasn’t even that we were kid-free for something more than a doctor's appointment (miracle of miracles!). No, I think what made this particular night so exciting - so special - was that sitting in our truck we both had smiles as we made our way to the Eclipse Christmas concert. Our yearly tradition for, well, years.
As my health has declined and limitations grown, we’ve had to let go of so much. Family camping trips, date nights out, and dancing - to name a few. But this Christmas concert was one of the few things that had managed to stick with us through this roller coaster of a disorder I now share my life with.
There was a time I hadn't used a wheelchair to get through a parking lot or needed an early bedtime and minimal weekly activities to function. But the flurry of excitement I felt sitting in the front seat as we headed to our concert was proof that that time was years behind us.
As the months have turned to years and I've slowly accepted that my body may never work the way it used to, some adjustments have proven harder than others. Outings and activities have been some of the harder ones. Surely there must be fun things my family and I can do together that don't demand so much of me physically and still leave us happier and closer. But it continues to be a challenge I haven’t been able to figure out - a code I can’t seem to crack.
Hurdles and a wheelchair
But now wasn't the time to be sad about such things. I was out with my handsome husband all to myself (a treasure in and of itself) and this concert was going to be even better than last year’s. I could already tell. For one, we knew exactly where the ramp was to get to the entrance. (Last year we’d made it all the way to the front of the building only to be met by a flight of stairs up to the door, with no ramp in sight. My husband had suggested pushing me up the hill of snow-filled flower beds or heaving the wheelchair backwards up the stairs... with me in it, of course. Needless to say, I was relieved that it ended up only taking us a little bit of backtracking to hunt down a ramp. I was up for an adventure but wasn’t incredibly thrilled for that adventure.)
So through the cold winter air we successfully made it to the ramp, through the door, and quickly settled into our “seats” in the wheelchair zone. A chair was set up for Matt, next to an empty spot for me and my wheelchair. It was about at that moment when I realized, to my embarrassment, how much higher I was sitting than he was. I'm not a tall person but sitting in my wheelchair I was almost a head taller than him. "Maybe we should go ask them if they can bring me out a regular chair."
My excitement had gone out the door, down that hidden ramp and into the night. All I could think of were the rows of people behind me and that this disorder which had robbed me of so many experiences these past few years had now managed to jip all of these nice people of their view too. “You’re just fine,” Matt reassured me. “Please stop worrying.” As the lights went down and the crowd cheered in anticipation I tried not to let my self conscious worries dampen the excitement I’d been full of just a few minutes before.
This is me
Then, only a few songs in, they announced their surprise non-Christmas song of the night: “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman. Despite not being much of a movie-watcher, I'd seen the movie and loved it instantly. And when I’d first heard “This Is Me” it had found a place in my heart just as quickly. All at once their harmonized voices broke the silence and unlike most later versions of any big hit, this totally and completely lived up to the original. It was incredible. Perfect. And full of light.
As I sat there in my wheelchair that made me too tall, this Christmas concert wasn't just fun and exciting. This concert and this song was for me. My eyes were glued to the stage and my smile - so big that it hurt - was back. I couldn’t stop the tears from running down my cheeks as I mouthed the words: “I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I'm meant to be. This is me!” I'd listened to that song so many times I had the words memorized. But this time the energy and message of these familiar words went straight to my soul. In that moment their acapella voices carried with them a gift of acceptance, confidence, and courage I hoped would never leave me.
One hour and a concert of Christmas songs later...
The final note hung in the air and their voices were replaced by applause. If my leg had had any strength or coordination left in it I would have pulled myself to my feet. I wanted to stand with the rest of the crowd and clap and cheer forever. Though even that didn't seem enough to do my gratitude justice for this incredible gift these six singers had given me. "Stand up! Stand up!" I leaned over and insisted. So Matt stood and cheered and thanked them for us both.
Room to receive
After finding so much joy from this unexpected gift, I’ve spent the past week looking even harder than usual for more gifts of this season. You know, the kind that won’t ever be found wrapped under a Christmas tree. A tender moment with my little ones. The laughter of sisterhood and silliness in the kitchen. The taste of freshly made toffee. A life shared with a man who loves me - despite all the ups and downs. It’s been 7 days (exactly) since my Christmas concert and let me tell you... there’s no shortage of gifts - especially at this time of year. The challenge, it seems, is whether we'll make room to receive them.
Ironic that a season focused on love, hope, and peace becomes so easily overstuffed by frantic shopping, last minute Christmas cards, and more activities and plans than there's time or energy for. How many gifts are lost in this holiday hustle and bustle? Tragically never to be seen?
On the other hand, how much happiness can come from one simple gift, fully received and treasured? Like a single song at a Christmas concert. Something I could have easily missed had I been more intent, for example, on getting the song recorded on my phone rather than soaking in the gift it was trying to give. A lot, as it turns out. In this past week of gift-seeking it’s become clearer than ever that the more love, hope, and peace you let in, the more you have to spread back into the world. The more gifts you make room to receive, the more you have to give. Which is the true gift of it all.
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