A Christmas With Cancer 🎄

by Shawn D. Brink

In August 2009, I started a new job at a startup company. My pay was 100% commission, based on sales. By October, it was clear that the company was struggling and my paychecks reflected it. I’d taken this job because it was a Christian-run company and I felt led to join. After a few months though, I was starting to wonder what God had in store for me. At least my wife had a good job to help cover things until the company got going.

Then, in early November 2009, we got some tough news. My wife had Leukemia and would be required to go on 100% disability for at least a year to undergo chemo, radiation, and eventually a bone marrow transplant.

“What?” I thought at the time. “That’s not possible. My wife is young. Young people don’t get cancer, do they?” Deep down, I knew this wasn’t true, but the idea of cancer wasn’t even on my radar prior to this diagnosis. To make things harder, we had four children ranging at the time from ages 4 through 10. I had no idea how I was going to manage being essentially a single father of four while taking care of a wife with cancer and trying to earn an income. I didn’t know why God was allowing this and found it difficult to put it in His hands and not worry about the future.

Now, fast forward one year to December, 2010. Our Christmas tree went up as it did every year in our dining room. My wife was in the hospital more than she was at home (this had been the norm since her diagnosis a year earlier and would continue to be the norm, on and off, for the next couple of years).

I was still working for that start-up. I was still making very little money and my wife’s disability paid far less than what she earned while working. By the end of 2010, money was getting extremely tight. We were keeping our heads above water, but only barely. In fact, if not for charity from our church family, relatives, my children’s school, and others, things would have been even more dire.

Being the Christmas season, my kids created their Christmas wish lists just like they did every year. They’d show me their lists and I’d do my best to smile and nod, but inside my heart was breaking. They were just children and didn’t understand how little there was to spare. I felt like a failure, barely able to keep a roof over my family’s heads and food on the table. I had no money for their gifts.

One day, about three weeks before Christmas, the doorbell rang. I was home (because there were no sales appointments for me to go to which meant another day not making money for my family), but when I opened the front door, no one was there. What was there, was a bulging black-plastic bag.

I opened the bag and discovered wrapped presents with my children’s names written on them. I had no idea who had delivered them, but I thanked God and put them under the tree.

The next day, in my mailbox, I found an envelope with a gift card for buying a holiday meal. There was no return address.

The day after that – more gifts. There was even a gift for myself and my wife. Again, nobody claimed responsibility for these gifts. They would just show up on our front porch anonymously.

Almost every day, I would find gifts on the porch, or gift cards in the mail. By Christmas Eve, as I was getting ready to go to our church’s evening service, I surveyed the Christmas tree in our dining room. It was hard to even walk through the room because of all the presents which overflowed out from under that tree like an avalanche.

That Christmas day 2010, my children received more presents than ever before or since. (If I remember correctly, we even gave some of them away to other charities to try and pay it forward). Plus, my wife was well enough to be home from the hospital that day which was a huge blessing, far greater than any material gift. It was truly a day for thanks.  

I still thank God today for that miracle-Christmas of 2010. I thank Him for allowing my children a blessed Christmas with gifts and food and their mom’s presence. Also, I thank God for the lessons he taught me that year.

Lesson 1: I need to put my trust in God alone, and not rest on my own understanding. God is in control.

Lesson 2: God provides. Sometimes he provides for me by allowing me to work and earn a living for my family. Other times, he provides by allowing others to meet my needs when I’m unable. I need to move away from the pride of being a family provider and know the humility of having needs met outside of my own efforts.

Lesson 3: Like those unknown people who helped provide a memorable Christmas for my family, I need to be more willing to be Christ’s hands and feet and help others when called to do so.

Lesson 4: As much as we were blessed with material gifts that Christmas, the real gift is Jesus. Even if no gifts had been under that tree, God would have still provided for our needs. In fact, he does just that every day.

Lesson 5: Even though you may feel alone in this world, God is always with you. That’s His promise to us, that he’ll never leave us or forsake us. That’s powerful.

It’s been years now since that Christmas and the trial of cancer that our family endured. For me, that trial came with positives. I’ve learned so much because of it. In fact, I’m still learning from it and growing in faith through it. I never asked for this trial and wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Yet, I’m thankful for all I’ve learned because of it.

By the grace of God, my wife has been free of cancer for about a decade. God is good.

Shawn D. Brink writes primarily speculative fiction and is building a following with five published novels to his name. He also has numerous shorter works in various publications and anthologies. For a list of publishing credits or to learn more about Shawn’s writing, please click here. Shawn is represented by Liverman Literary Agency and resides in eastern Nebraska, U.S.A.

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