December 7th has always been a very special day in my family. It’s the day we get our Christmas tree and is my sister Libby’s birthday.
While I was growing up, every year on her birthday we’d bundle up, get in the car, and drive to some remote lot to retrieve our valuable pine tree. Sometimes my dad would cut down an evergreen tree and wrap it in cotton batting. Some years there was hot chocolate and frequently there was Christmas music, but on December 7th there was always a tree and a special birthday dinner with cake and presents.
Libby was my best friend. Even as I grew older I knew that for ever and always on December 7th I would be getting a Christmas tree and carry on the tradition with my own family.
I remember the first year I was married. Sure enough, on the 7th we got a Christmas tree. I remember my sister round with child coming over with her husband for a Christmas party. I’d be pregnant myself in a matter of weeks. It was a wonderful memory that year. I didn’t know at the time that would be my last Christmas with her. The next December 7th I would get my tree but wouldn’t have my sister. She died in March in a car accident.
Later when we found out we were having a girl, we decided to name our daughter after her aunt. Nine months after giving birth to Libby, we discovered I was pregnant again. This time with a boy. Our son, Samuel, was born premature and we had to spend many weeks in the hospital with him. When he came home he was on oxygen and an apnea monitor. We then moved when Samuel was nine months old from our home in Virginia, where we had spent almost our whole lives, to Pennsylvania so that my husband could attend seminary.
Since my sister’s death, December and March have been two particularly difficult months for me. When December draws close, I tend to cry thinking of how old my sister would’ve been. I’ve often imagined what a joy it would’ve been for our kids to grow up together. And I miss the conversations we would have had. There are some things I know that only she would understand.
Last year, in an effort to remember and celebrate my sister’s life, I had a type of party for her. My daughter and I made her a cake and I spent the day thinking of how blessed I was to have her in my life. This year, her fourth birthday with Jesus, I wanted to do the same thing.
I was full of hopes and desires of how I was going to spend the day. Doing the things she loved. Watching a sad movie and crying. Maybe even working on the scrapbook I had made with pictures of her.
I woke up that morning to the sound of my son’s wheezing and I instantly knew he needed to go to the doctor. Being pregnant again, my husband had planned on taking me to my appointment to see a perinatologist to have an ultrasound. Instead he dropped me off for my appointment and took Samuel to the doctor’s.
Before he dropped me off, we had a conversation that went something like this:
Mike: "Jenn, are you OK?"
Me: "I feel like God is flicking me off."
Mike: "He’s not. He loves you."
Me: "Then why does this happen on days like this? Our son is sick. You’re missing your final exams. We just moved. We have no money. You’re not even going to be with me at the appointment."
I was frustrated and angry. Our life had been challenging and as of late it was more so than ever. We had just moved out of a three bedroom townhouse into a small two bedroom apartment so we could save some money. Even so, the bills were stacking up and there was no money to pay them.
Our children had been sick with the croup all week and Samuel’s asthma was beginning to flare. I had an upper respiratory infection. Mike had finals.
Even though I was a high-risk pregnancy, I wasn’t able to see an OBGYN until I was almost 14 weeks. And I was worried about this pregnancy. What if something was wrong? What if the baby was dead? What if I went into pre-term labor again?
Top it all off with the grief that was suffocating me. I missed my sister so badly I thought my heart might explode. Having a sister as a best friend is one of the most wonderful things to have and one of the most horrible things to lose.
The way this day was going just seemed to make it worse.
December 7th was a special day; an almost sacred day in my book. It was also one of the two days where I felt like it was OK to grieve. That it was OK to be sad and cry. People understood. It was as if I had a pass for grace on this day. It didn’t last till December 8th, but I had that one day, the 7th.
Did God really love me? At times I felt like He must be a big monster simply smirking at me. I knew it wasn’t true, but why would He let me have so much pain, loss, and hardship? Why did my life sound more like a soap opera or some crazy tragic movie than a song of victory? And then there was today. Could I let go of the day I had planned and let it be the day that God wanted to give me?
I got out of the car at the doctor’s office. I kissed my husband goodbye and said a prayer for my son. I waited nearly two hours to be seen. Before I even saw the doctor, Mike was already finished with Samuel’s appointment and told me that we needed to take him to the children’s hospital. I groaned inside. I knew he was going to be admitted.
I talked with the ultrasound technician, telling her I was in a rush because I needed to get my son to the hospital. She was kind and sympathetic, asking why I needed the ultrasound. I told her my doctor wanted to check viability and to rule out that I was having twins because, you know, it runs in my family.
I had always wanted to have twins but assumed if it didn’t happen the first pregnancy, it wasn’t going to happen. My grandmother’s a fraternal twin and my cousin is pregnant with twins. But I knew I couldn’t be pregnant with twins. It was just me wanting it.
The technician asked me how I’d feel if I was pregnant with twins.
"Well," I said. "I have two small children. The oldest just turned three. I think my hands would be very full. My husband is in seminary right now . . . and well, twins . . . that would just be a bit wild."
She turned on the screen and began the procedure. I strained to see the screen. Nothing looked abnormal to me so I just relaxed and closed my eyes. One baby. I knew it. What else could I have been thinking?
I opened my eyes. She smiled and looked at me.
"You’re having twins."
I asked if she was serious. She said yes. I burst into tears. Wow. How amazing! I told her it was my sister’s birthday and explained that she was with Jesus.
It felt like a gift from my sister and from God on that day. It was His way of showing me that He does love me. He does have a plan for me. My life isn’t a mistake. I felt a small taste of His kindness and goodness.
I called my husband who was waiting patiently in the car. "Honey, I’m hurrying. We’re also having twins."
The appointment quickly wrapped up and I raced downstairs. I gave my husband a huge squeeze and told him we needed to hurry to the hospital.
Samuel was admitted and we spent the rest of the weekend in the hospital. In between caring for him and praying for his health, I was left marveling.
I didn’t get to do anything I planned on my sister’s birthday. We didn’t buy a tree. I didn’t eat ice-cream for breakfast (one of her die-hard habits). But I did get a taste of God’s goodness and I did worship Him with a grateful heart. My sister would have definitely approved. In the end, I guess I did do something she did, I loved God. I worshiped Him. I surrendered myself and my life to Him again.
Psalm 27:13 says, "I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." I used to think that I would see God’s goodness only when I was in Heaven. I came upon this verse shortly after my sister died but was struck anew by it this year on the 7th. Surely I had seen the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, the here and now. God in His mercy gave me a small taste of His goodness here on earth.
And although I know it was my sister’s birthday that day, I think it was I, who was given a gift.