The Christmas holiday has always been a complicated bag of mixed feelings. It’s a juggernaut of expectation, emotion, and expense. I feel bombarded by commercials and holiday specials and buried in over-the-top nostalgia that causes general anxiety even when everything goes as planned. I’m sure I’m not alone, holidays are hard for lots of people, but this year Christmas felt especially “off”. I’d experienced some personal challenges in the months leading up to Christmas that sapped my energy and dampened my spirits and even though I am blessed with a wonderful life there was something missing and I felt hollow. What I didn’t expect was to receive a blessing through a gift from my husband Ben, who knows my heart better than I. Before I reveal the gift, you’ll need a little backstory.
Last year at this time, my brother-in-law Tom was nearing the end of his life. Many of you might remember Tom as my Most Loyal Reader. For years he and my sister made Christmas ornaments for friends and family out of different materials like beads and stained glass. Over the years the ornaments morphed into formed wire angels. As his heart condition slowed him down Tom started making wire angels exclusively. He’d choose a pattern, create a jig and start cranking out dozens upon dozens of angels as gifts for friends, family and for members of his church, Christ the King. It got to be quite an event to receive the annual angelic creation he’d made. The last year he made angels was especially memorable.
In one of those serendipitous moments, he met Terry Wallace, who owned a powder coating business in Indiana. Terry had been helping his Cincinnati cousin Nancy who was undergoing chemotherapy. Cousin Nancy also happened to be a member of Tom’s church. Tom had given Nancy one of his wire angels and when she showed it to Terry he had an idea to powder coat the raw wire. He chose his cousin’s favorite color, purple. Nancy was delighted with the purple angel and when she showed it off to friends that was the birth of an idea. Terry was asked if he could coat a whole series of Tom’s angels and the first batch of Advent purple angels were created for Christ the King Lutheran church—Tom’s church. Later Terry learned there were colors for individual cancers, and Tom’s 2018 angels were produced in various colors representing cancer awareness. At the time Tom wasn’t sure he’d live long enough to complete the 2018 angels, and in his typical pragmatic fashion he’d left details with Terry on how to make the small wire angels, asking him to take over if he died before he could complete his task. In an article from the Princeton Daily Clarion (12/14/18) about Tom, Terry and the angels, Terry said they had made about 200 of the wire angels in 2018. He also said he “didn’t know where they all were, but it started with one person and one angel…”—his cousin Nancy’s gift from Tom. After that experience Terry was inspired to create five large steel angel planters. The first of the initial five angels was sent to Tom. The second angel went to Tom’s church, Christ the King Lutheran. Terry hopes other organizations will be interested in an angel.
Tom was never one to give into any external or internal forces trying to hold him down. As Christmas 2018 approached he was much weakened by heart disease but still made his jig and was at his work desk cranking out angels when we visited him in November. Tom lived to complete the wire work for his multicolored angels and to receive the big steel angel from Terry. He enjoyed that Christmas and rang in the New Year. Tom passed at the end of January 2019.
I didn’t expect an angel this year; I figured that along with the physical presence of my brother in law angel production had ceased to be.
I and everyone who loved him miss Tom terribly. This Christmas I came to realize I had overlooked the lesson of his life. He’d struggled with debilitating heart disease for most of his adult life with good humor, grace and enough recklessness that made us worry that he’d end himself by falling off a ladder decorating his 15-foot tall Christmas tree. He lived long enough to amaze his cardiac specialists and tell more lame “ dad” jokes than any human on the planet. Even though it took great effort he made the best of every stage of his life, up to the last of his days.
Christmas morning we were in the midst of Ben’s family gift exchange melee I affectionately call “Chrismageddon,” and in the corner among the piles of gifts there was an enormous box with my name on it. When I opened it, there was a steel angel from Terry. I was deeply moved but I didn’t make a big deal about the gift—it was too hard to explain why it was so much more than a cute yard ornament. Ben told me he had met Terry at Tom’s funeral and made arrangements for an angel for me, and concocted a shipping plot with my sister to keep it’s delivery a secret. Another lesson to be learned: I am deeply loved.
I’m hardly a bible scholar, but one of my favorite books is Proverbs. In Proverbs you can find a saying to define just about every human behavior and foible–you should check it out. Proverbs 17:22 says “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” That angel arrived at just the right time to remind me that a cheerful heart, no matter how damaged can sustain you for the long haul. The trick is to hold love and blessings of your life in front of you as a reminder that they are the light regardless of the dark times that inevitably come and go in life. Just like Tom.