Several years ago Reader’s Digest published one such miracle. “At Christmastime” Dave Grinstead of Bellingham, Washington wrote, “our family was on the way from Seattle to a new assignment on the East Coast and we stopped in Watertown, South Dakota. It was not the best time to travel with young children who were rightfully concerned about Santa finding us on the road.”
“Headed into town on Christmas Eve our car approached an intersection. There was a Santa right in the crosswalk! He held up his hand for us to stop, and we rolled down our windows. Santa poked his head in and said to our kids, ‘Oh, there you are! I was wondering where I’d find you tonight.’”
“Naturally, the kids were thrilled to pieces. We told Santa which motel we were staying at so he could find them. My wife and I had tucked away gifts for the trip as we knew we wouldn’t have time to shop along the way.”
“The cartop carrier and out-of-state license plate might have been giveaways but whatever it was, that Santa really made a Christmas miracle in 1961 for our kids.”
That’s a good miracle story, one of making wishes come true. Still, I prefer Christmas miracles of transformation… miracles of finding at Christmastime new meaning in life or of new life itself. And believe me, they exist.
Most scientists would call them, though, not miracles but coincidences. Happenstance, naturally occurring quirks and twists of fate and the development of events in the absence of any obvious design well within the confines of chance.
Not so in my opinion. I have faith in miracles. “Faith”, as Martin Luther King said, “is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase.” I’ll take that faith step into the unknown…into wonder and mystery and ambiguity and into believing in more than chance, especially at Christmastime. So no scientist is going to convince me through studies and laboratory experiments that miracles don’t exist. I’ve just experienced one with my own eyes.
Mary Wolak Burke, the name of our heroine so apropos at this Christmastime of the year, had been effectively comatose for weeks. She suffers from Parkinson’s disease and Shy-Drager syndrome that manifests itself in uncontrollable blood pressure. She is consequently confined to a wheel chair in a nursing unit in High Point, NC.
At 89 years of living, she’s lived a good life raising four kids (one of them my wife) to productive, contributive, loving, adulthood. She has been graced with six grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. She loves chocolate.
But she wouldn’t want to be living as she was…her body failing a still sharp mind. In the past weeks she had been rarely lucid, asleep most of the time, and withering away due to very little eating and drinking and no exercise. Her wish was to have no extraordinary methods (including intravenous) used to prolong her life. Grimacing in her constant slumber, she had been administered small doses of morphine to minimize her pain from what her doctors and medical staff said were ministrokes.
Assigned to the “final step”, her Hospice nurse and social worker told us just this past Friday that she was “transitioning” …that death could come any time…in days, even hours. They asked us what Mary was like as a younger woman when she was vibrant and free. They promised sympathetically that they would be there for Mary.
We had gathered in High Point not only for Mary’s passing but also for a family Christmas observation that Mary had so hoped several months ago to attend before she entered her transition to death. And then the Christmas miracle.
This past Saturday morning, the day of the family Christmas celebration, while under Hospice care, perhaps hours from death, and after weeks of unconsciousness, Mary awoke. Completely lucid, communicative, and hopeful, she ate and drank more than she had in weeks.
Bathed, her hair done, makeup applied, broad smile on her face, matriarch of her family, wheeled into the room in a reclining wheelchair, Mary became enveloped, group-hugged, and honored by her family during their Christmas celebration. All her kids, grandkids, and great grandkids were in attendance.
We told stories about her and the jokes she was famous for telling herself, and sang Christmas carols (at her request). We reminisced. Mary ate Hungarian kolaches (sugar dusted, walnut filled Christmas cookies) that her daughter and granddaughter baked in her honor. Mary said they tasted just like those her own Hungarian-born mother used to make.
It could have been a fluke, a mere respite from her inevitable trip to the “Great Beyond”. But Mary’s unlikely awakening in time for her family Christmas celebration was truly a miracle for her and for her family.
It’s the Season of Believing. And I know for certain and hope you do too that Christmas miracles do occur. I witnessed one this past week.