My most memorable Christmas was the one I now affectionately call the stomach flu Christmas. Six weeks before that cold Christmas Eve, I had given birth to my son Jacob. This pregnancy had been particularly long and difficult because my doctor had ordered bed rest to prevent Jacob’s premature delivery. After seven pregnancies in eight years, this Christmas season found me exhausted. It seemed I didn’t have the time, health or money to do everything I thought so important for the kind of Christmas I wanted my children to have.
I truly wanted the picture-perfect Christmas I’d seen in Hollywood movies or read about in books. But a postpartum bleeding problem, a lingering infection and a house full of overactive young children all left me feeling chronically overwhelmed. After paying off the doctors and hospital, we didn’t have much money left over for gifts. I’d been sewing dolls from cloth scraps and painting blocks and toy trucks from leftover wood scraps in the wee hours between late-night feedings with my newborn son.
Then on Christmas Eve, it hit like a blast of arctic air . . . the dreaded stomach flu. All my children suddenly became violently ill. They were too young or too weak to reach the bathroom, so I rushed from bed to crib diapering, changing sheets and comforting the best I could.
Then the illness hit me just as hard. I soon found myself unable to stand without fainting – which I learned the hard way. I must have hit my head on the corner of our nightstand passing out, because my forehead was throbbing and a lump was forming when I woke up on the floor in my bedroom.
For a moment I lay motionless on the floor, paralyzed with nausea and throbbing pain. Then I tried to figure out what I should do. If I called someone for help, I would expose friends or family to the dangerous condition of the ice-covered roads and this awful illness. My husband had been out of town on a business trip and should have been home hours ago. Because he hadn’t called, I worried he might be stranded on the road somewhere or in an accident. I felt so sick and alone.
“Mom! Mom! Help me!”
I heard my children crying and retching in their rooms again.
“Dear Father in Heaven,” I prayed. “Why does everything have to be so hard, especially on Christmas Eve?”
“Mommy! I need you!”
“Please give me the strength I need to care for my children,” I prayed.
I raised my head and felt another fainting spell coming on, so I maneuvered my body into a kneeling position. If I kept my head down, I could slowly crawl from bed to bed. Hours passed with no break in sight.
Around midnight, I heard the front door open and my husband trudging toward the back of the house. I was lying in a fetal position on the floor in the hallway, remaining close to the children’s bedrooms so I could hear and respond to their needs. My newborn son was wrapped in a blanket and cradled in the bend of my body. My husband rushed into the bathroom, then to the bedroom, where he collapsed on the bed and moaned. He wouldn’t be able to help. He was as sick as the rest of us.
Moments later I heard the pendulum clock in the family room begin the first of twelve soft chimes. When the clock grew silent, I knew Christmas had come. I didn’t have the strength to put gifts under the tree and the stockings were still empty, but my children were sleeping peacefully for the first time that evening. I felt the slow gentle breaths of my tiny son on my neck. Clouds parted in the night sky just enough to let a faint bit of moonlight filter into the hallway.
“It’s Christmas,” I thought.
Then, as if someone had quietly placed a blanket fresh from the dryer all around me, I felt suddenly warm. I remembered another mother and child . . . another Christmas when everything didn’t work out as planned . . . a Christmas when all the inns were full, when the Savior of the world was born in a stable because there was no room. I knew that babe in the manger was my Savior. I knew I was loved and that I was not alone.
I will never forget the stomach flu Christmas. It taught me that life seldom works out the way we plan – and that is the wonder of it all. For only in sickness do we awaken to the gift of health – only through pain do we receive the gift of understanding. The stomach flu Christmas taught me that my Father in Heaven wants me to grow up, to understand that life is supposed to be filled with challenges, even on Christmas Eve. It taught my children that they have a mother who loves them. Perhaps that deep, abiding love was the greatest gift I had to offer.
Other Christmas Eves have come and gone with the more common, frantic preparations for that much awaited morning, but the stomach flu Christmas stands out because I know now there is joy even in sorrow . . . that the daily miracles of life, health, love and family should never be taken for granted. In the stillness of that night, I finally understood that only in darkness does the light and love of the Savior shine brightest.