Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Greatest Gift

Seeing how this is the week of Christmas I decided to try to come up with something a little Christmas themed. I could have gone in several directions. I could have talked about memorable Christmases of the past or things I did with the presents I got over the years, but I decided to go a different route. I finally decided to tell a couple of stories about the greatest gift ever given to anyone.

Now, it may seem that what constitutes the greatest gift would vary from person to person, but it doesn't really. The gift I am talking about is the gift of life. It is the gift without which no other gift matters. Our Lord gave us life and then went even further by making it possible to attain eternal life through the spilled blood of his Son. Being that we celebrate the birth of Jesus and his life here on earth at Christmas I am going to focus on life in the here and now. Plus, of course, I've never been dead, so my stories about the afterlife are limited.

I suppose I could start these stories at my birth, but I don't really remember it and it's not very funny. I've decided instead to focus on the Lord preserving my life. The first tale opens many years ago when I was around four years old. I believe at the time we were living down in the old trailer in Moncks Corner. On the particular night in question I had decided that I wanted some lime Jello, but Mom had said that she didn't feel like making it at the moment.

I did what many children have done throughout history when presented with “Not right now.” from his or her parents. I decided to take matters into my own hands. I got a chair (or something to climb with, it was almost thirty years ago and it wasn't very memorable.) and climbed up on the kitchen counter. As I was trying to open the cabinet door above me I slipped and fell.

Normally this wouldn't have been a big deal. A less than three foot drop wasn't the kind of thing to give me much trouble most of the time. However, this time Dad had put a big mason jar up on the counter top. It was a jar I had broken earlier that day while doing something else. When I slipped and fell I landed on it. I slid down the broken edge, which sliced deeply into my jaw bone, and landed with a thump on the floor. (In fact I still have a dimple in the bottom of my chin and have to explain to each of my children what happened to Daddy once they get old enough to notice.)

I hadn't turned on the lights when I went into the kitchen for some reason. It may have been that I was trying to be sneaky or I might have simply felt that there was enough light coming from the living room, but I can't remember. The important thing is that I couldn't see. This is important because I also didn't feel any pain at all. Most of the time when someone cuts a gash in one of their bones they feel at least some small amount of pain. I felt nothing. I didn't feel numb or anything like that, I just felt normal.

After a moment I noticed that my chin was wet. I put one hand up and rubbed my chin and then looked at my hand. I couldn't see anything. I thought that it might be something wet or that it might be my imagination. Being a child I did the same thing with the other hand. Again, I could see nothing. My hands and chin might have been wet or they might not as far as I could tell. I knew that it was possible that I was bleeding so I decided to go ask Mom and Dad.

Having rubbed both my hands all over my bleeding chin and throat I must have looked like someone out of a horror movie when I walked into the living room threw my head back and asked “Am I bleeding?” My mother screamed like a crazy person and Dad began flying around the room like a madman. In a flash Dad had checked me and found that it was just my chin that was bleeding and that I had fallen on the jar on the counter. I started crying during all the havoc. I was asked if I was in pain and I answered truthfully. “No, but Daddy is going to spank me and that is going to hurt.” That statement was met with laughter and I was assured that I had been punished enough.

A quick trip to the hospital got me sown up with no more permanent damage than a scar. However, the way that the jar had broken it could have been much worse. It was only the grace of God that saved my life. The jar was like a two edged knife blade sticking strait up. If I had been over the jar a fraction of an inch more I would have slipped down the other side of that glass blade. The result would have been that one of the arteries in my throat would have been cut. I would have been dead before anyone could have done anything.

I suppose all of us have a number of near-death experiences throughout our lives. That was the first one of mine that I remember. The second was years later. I was somewhere between thirteen and fourteen years old and we were coming home from having gone to visit grandma down in Moncks Corner. We stopped at some store along the way and I saw my first Flip-It knife. I thought it was one of the coolest things I had ever seen, so I begged Dad to get it for me. All things considered it was a rather inexpensive knife so he bought it for me.

For those of you who have never seen a Flip-It knife I'll do me best to describe one. They work very much like a lock blade, except when they are closed the entire blade is hidden in the handle. Part of the handle is the “lock” and you have to pop it up with your finger nail in order to open it. You then pull that part of the handle up, slide it around and push the blade out. Once that is done you push the handle down to lock the blade out. Once the knife is opened it most resembles a long razor blade on a plastic stick. This was the knife that I couldn't wait to get home to try out.

Sadly by the time we had gotten home it was dark. Mom didn't want me wandering around in the woods looking for a stick to whittle on, so I was going to have to wait until the next day to try out my new knife. Now, as many of you may already know, patience has never been my greatest virtue. After a few hours of looking at my new knife I had gotten bored. I began considering all the possible ways I could use it that night. Finally I came up with an idea.

I got an old piece of news paper and spread it out on the coffee table with most of it hanging off the edge. Then I put a book on top of the edge that was on the table in order to hold it in place. The result was a long bit of news paper hanging in the air. I took out my new knife and began shredding the news paper one stroke at a time. As I sat there slicing through the paper Josh and I got into a conversation. I don't remember what it was about, but he asked me a question about something. In answer I raised my left hand in an “I don't know” gesture and went back to cutting my paper.

I was looking at Josh, waiting for him to continue what he was saying, but he didn't. He turned as white as a sheet and slowly pointed a very shaky hand in my general direction. “What?” I asked him. He began to mumble and sputter a bit, but didn't say anything anywhere near English words. This got on my nerves and I raised my voice a bit as I again asked him “What?” His shaking hand and quiet burbling told me something was wrong and I was beginning to get concerned. I raised my left hand in another gesture and blood sprayed all over me.

I looked down and was met with another horror movie scene. There was blood all over the table, the paper, the knife, and me. I looked at my left wrist and blood was shooting out of it like a fountain. I had sliced into it when I had raised my hand. Again, I was seriously injured and again I felt no pain at all. I might have sat there and bled to death if Josh hadn't been there simply because I wouldn't have known I had cut myself.

Now, I had been a boy scout long enough to know a slashed artery when I saw one and I reacted immediately. I dropped the knife in my right hand and gripped my left hand as hard as I could. There was blood pouring out between my fingers, but I had at lease stopped the spraying. I jumped up and stepped over to Mom and Dad's bedroom door. I knocked as firmly as I could with my left hand while cutting off the blood flow with my right. I then said “Mom, Dad, I think I've cut an artery.”

A sound came from the room as if a tornado was going through it and before a complete second had passed Dad had thrown the door opened. He grabbed my wrist and told me to let go of it. When I did we were sprayed with a shower of blood and Dad clamped down on my wrist with his hand instantly. “Yep, that's an artery!” He said.

He led me into the bathroom and began washing out the wound. Mom brought him some paper towels and some scotch tape in order to make a tourniquet. While he was working on that I was watching my blood pour down the drain in the sink and slowly my vision started to fade.

“I'm going blind.” I said calmly.

“That's shock. It's from the loss of blood. You'll be all right.” Dad replied confidently.

“Are you going to be sick?” Mom ask as I stared into nothing.

“No, I'm fine. I just can't see.”

“Well, if you feel like you have to throw up don't try to stop yourself.”

“OK, but I'm fine.”

Right after I got through saying that some of my vision started to return. I could see the dirty clothes hamper. Without warning I turned and threw up into it.

“I guess I am sick.”

“It's just the shock. It will pass.” Dad reassured me.

In less than an hour we were at the hospital. A rather young medical intern removed the tourniquet and tried to get my wrist to bleed. He couldn't. Dad had collapsed the artery so far back in my forearm that it couldn't get the blood through. Because of this the intern was sure that I had cut a vain. We argued with him, but he insisted on sewing it up as it if were just a vain.

The result of that decision was that two days later the artery broke loose and years later I had to have reconstructive surgery on that artery. I ended up with two scars and a bit of exposed nerve because some intern didn't take the eye witness accounts of the people who saw what happened. The moral of that is not to be pushed around by your doctor. If he won't even look into what you are talking about go somewhere else. Keep in mind, you are the customer. In the end, however, there was no great damage done. It could have been much worse. In fact if I had been unable to get help I very possibly could have bled to death.

It may seem that all the blood in these stories would have been more appropriate for Halloween rather than Christmas, but they remind me of how great a gift God has given me. Life is a wonderful thing and eternal life will be even better. That is what Christmas is all about. That is what the birth of our Lord brought to this world. As the Lord said himself, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.“ God saw fit to give me life and has preserved it for me even when I haven't done such a good job of preserving it myself. Life is a gift he has given to each of us. Eternal life is something he wants us all to have. That is something worth thinking about. Merry Christmas everyone!

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