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The Gift Of Love

Tonight I was looking through old pictures from "Christmases long long ago." Like the ghost of Christmas Past, I hovered over scenes of memories through the years. Some of those moments were filled with laughter and outright silliness. The "silliness" moments often included my sweet Aunt Betty.

This woman loved life and having fun! She would sit at the piano and "take off" across the ivories like Santa's reindeer trotting off a snowy rooftop with her own rendition of familiar carols and Christmas hymns. She would don a hat, a bow or bells and giggle like a little girl while her fingers rang out "Jingle Bells" on the keys.

Soon, her infectious laughter would melt into tears as she slowed the melody down to a reverent reminder of what Christmas was all about. Ultimately, it was about celebrating the birth of our Savior and worshiping the newborn King with the angels as we sang "Oh come let us adore him...." Honestly, the glow on her face rivaled the brightness of the star that hovered over Bethlehem the day Jesus was born.

There was a reason my sweet aunt had a joy that overflowed with tears as the years progressed through each Christmas season. She had experienced the gift of love through her family, and had BECOME the gift of love as she fulfilled the purpose of the Son of God's humble earthly birth through service to others. She fully embraced the profound message of Christmas proclaimed by the Christmas angel. "Fear not..." wasn't just a proclamation of joy at birth, but a word of comfort through the pain of loss, difficulty, sickness and death. She had walked through it all.

First, was her own sickness being diagnosed with breast cancer. She fought it and beat it for awhile before it came back with a vengeance.Then if that weren't enough, the man she had spent years loving with the very heart of God, became ill. My uncle became even weaker than Aunt Betty as she fought her own battle to survive. Just a few short months before his death, she learned that her whole body was taken over by cancer.

Somehow in the middle of enormous adversity, she still managed to give of herself, broken body and all. She had just gotten out of the hospital from a mastectomy the day we moved them into their new home after their retirement from ministry. Her thoughts were not on what she was losing in her health but what she had gained - her very own home to share with her husband for whatever time he had left. I will never forget watching her that day. She walked into the house and tried to comfort him putting up a cheerful front for him, and mustered excitement about being in their home. She was giving the one thing she had that was not diseased, broken or weak - the gift of love! She had been doing this for many years even when healthy - giving the gift of love without reserve or hesitation and never thinking of herself.

A few weeks after we moved them into their home, we even managed to decorate for Christmas. There would be no skipping out on celebrating Jesus' birth. She had a peace beyond what anyone could understand with the mind, but had to feel with the heart. God's gift of love to the world and to His creation walked freely in Aunt Betty's heart and soul. She was His hands, His feet, His voice, His touch, His hug, His comfort, His refuge, and His heart in a frail, soft and gentle body that had never once thought of herself. Though she was heartbroken at not having years before her to share with her family and those she loved, she had a resolve about her that defied human understanding.

I spent many hours with her in that last year of her life. Once, I remember her breaking down in front of my grandmother, my mother and me. She said "I am ready to go if that is how it is supposed to be, but I sure do wish I had more time to be here with those I love and to do more." She wasn't afraid to die, she was afraid of not being able to live and to give the love that burned inside of her.

Through her journey over those years during her battle with cancer, she was on a mission to share what she had learned. Once, when all the family was together, she shared her thoughts concerning all the things that had seemed to matter to her in years past. She said they just didn't matter anymore. The little hangups, the pride of what you do, who you are, what you contribute, what you obtain, etc. just didn't matter. What mattered was what you have in those around you and what you give back to them as a legacy; the memories you make during good times and bad. Honestly, I don't think she would've survived as long as she did had she not been able to continue to give the gift of love to those around her - her family, her neighbors, her friends, her church family. She thrived in giving the gift of love.

I have been through some difficulties in my life, dealt with health issues, and faced some losses of my own though nothing like Aunt Betty faced. Still, I think I understand her heart and her passion. When all the things you could once do for others, when all the ways you had to accomplish goals and succeed diminish for one reason or another, you find yourself even more compelled to give the one thing that never fails, the one gift that God gave to us that first Christmas Day. The gift of love is something that you always have in abundance no matter how many times you give it away because the One who IS love fills your heart to overflowing each and every time He sees you opening your heart to be His love in humanity.

This Christmas, I don't have the means to give expensive gifts or even the physical strength to accomplish noble tasks for others. There will be no big treasures under my Christmas tree.

The one thing I do have that I long to give with everything in me is love - the Christ Child's unconditional love through good times and bad, sickness and health, joy and sorrow, plenty and lack, fear and faith. I feel exactly like my aunt Betty did. Lord give me one more day, one more week, one more month, year and more to love those in my life as I should. My prayer is that the hearts that are meant to be loved through me by our loving God, receive all that He has to give through me. I also pray that I allow Him to love through me when my own emotions, humanity, and strength fail. There is no greater gift than to give what He has given to me and chosen for me to pay forward - THE GIFT OF LOVE.

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