Dear Family and Friends,
If Jesus is the reason for the season, then we should know the reason why Jesus came some two thousand years ago. I’ll tell you a story about a patient of mine that I think will illustrate this reason. Mrs. Johnson is her name. No patient likes to receive bad news, especially from their doctor. Well, it is quite difficult for doctors also. About three years ago, before she became my patient, she received the bad news which may have sounded like this: “Mrs. Johnson, I am sorry. I have some bad news for you. You have a condition called Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease…” This is a progressive, incurable disease where you slowly lose the use of all your muscles and carries a life expectancy of only 2-6 years from diagnosis. I have cared for many people with terminal illnesses, but I have yet to know someone who faced one of life’s hardest challenges, death with such courage, hope, and peace.
If we were told this news, ow would we handle it? Some of us like Mrs. Johnson will know the approximate year to be written on our tombstone, while others of us will die quite suddenly and unexpectedly. But one fact that all of us must face is that all of us will die someday. I feel that when you are not afraid to die then you are truly free to live. Well, let’s follow the last year of her life and hopefully we’ll gain some insights on life as well as death.
I firs started to care for Mrs. Johnson just over one year before her death. At that time, she could walk, talk, swallow, and breath without oxygen, but this disease has its own clock and one by one she began to lose all these functions we take so much for granted. During her last days, she was kept alive using tube feedings and oxygen. Even though every muscle was affected, her mind was not affected, and she could communicate by writing. Her mind was sharp. She would even joke around. What impressed me most was her peace and hope. When I asked her, “Are you afraid of death or dying?” She wrote down, “No.” And she began sharing her love for Jesus, and how she was looking forward to meeting Him face to face and being able to talk again. Even though I’m sure this disease was hard on her, I never heard her complain. Her only regret was leaving her husband of 46 years and seeing how difficult it had been on him to see her suffer. She was so full of hope, joy, and peace, I would almost forget I was visiting someone who was dying. Her faith was holding her firm. It made me wonder how I would do if I was in her shoes. I concluded that her faith was stronger than mine. I wanted a faith like Mrs. Johnson―to look death right in the eye and not be afraid. I also desire that our children have this kind of faith; how much more prepared would they be to handle life’s challenges and hardships.
I wanted my family to meet Mrs. Johnson so they could then witness faith in action. I asked Mrs. Johnson her husband if it would be all right to bring over my family that evening. They both agreed. I had been sharing about Mrs. Johnson and as a family, we had been praying for her and her husband. That evening we all had such a special time together. The children sang, asked questions, prayed with her, and hugged her. My wife, Lori, bonded with her right away since both love to quilt. The next day, Mrs. Johnson went to be with the Lord. I was able to attend her memorial. It was as she had hoped―one of joy and hope. A few days later Mr. Johnson came by my office and we talked a bit and then out of a bag, he pulled a beautiful quilt. He said that before his wife died she told him that she wanted to give this quilt to my wife. Tears filled my eyes as we hugged each other. Lori also cried when she received the quilt. This quilt is hanging in our home and will be a constant reminder for our family of Mrs. Johnson and her steadfast faith.
That is why Jesus came. Jesus wants each of us to have this same faith and hope of eternal life in heaven with Himself. Even His name, “Jesus” means, “He shall save His people,” Just remember when you are frantically looking for those gifts, that you don’t lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas―Jesus, the Messiah, and Savior. Make sure that your trust is in Jesus and not our self or things of this world, for our day on earth are numbered and may even be as short as Mrs. Johnson’s life.
Well, I’d like to share some things about our family. Let’s start with our youngest, Kristi Akemi (7 months). She is our fifth wonder of the world. She has a smile that would melt even your worst day. Her gummy smile is accompanied by a darting tongue with a life of its own. Her only fear is her slightly older sister, Bethany. Bethany loves her, but she does not realize that she is nearly twice her size and they both can (2 years) doesn’t talk much yet but she lets her wishes be known especially if she wants to be carried. “U, up” she would say. Then she doesn’t want to be let down. She gives those biceps a good workout! I think on the most touching things she does are her tender apologies. The way she shows that she is sorry; she looks right into your eyes and uses both of her hands and lightly strokes your cheeks. That just melts me.
Stefanie (4 ½) really loves both of her younger sisters. Stefanie has always been so patient and kind with Bethany even when Bethany was not kind back. Bethany had the hardest time when Kristi arrived, and Bethany cried for two days straight. Bethany would scream when Stefanie tried to hep her or even be close to her. This did not hinder Stefani’s efforts at being kind to Bethany. Well, this did pay off as Bethany now does not let any of the other children help her except for Stefanie.
Jonathan (5 ½) is all boy. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to tell him to put down the stick. There must truly be something about tat “y” chromosome. He really has a tender side though. He’s a great friend of the younger children and a loyal friend of Amy. Jonathan enjoyed his first season of soccer. He’s a hustler and we’ve all enjoyed watching his games, and only got rained on once (which is good for a fall sport around here).
Amy (7 ½) is our oldest. That is not an easy position to be in. Her endlessly creative mind can think of games or activities to keep the younger children excited and involved for hours. She has a tender side that has the grace and poise of a young lady and is great to take out on a date. Amy doesn’t mind getting all dirty and sweaty either as she is my most faithful helper with the yard work.
Lori as you can imagine with five young children, really has her hands full. Even though her days are full, she tells me that there is no where else she would rather be. She is a superb organizer, and this helps especially when trying to homeschool the older three, keep Bethany under control and nurse Kristi and keep the home. She frequently tells me how much joy she experiences when on f our children learn a new concept or skill. Occasionally I get a phone call with the exiting news; too precious to wait until I get home. I know how much work she must put into school preparation as I am now teaching science and Bible. Lori is a terrific wife. How nice it is to just sit and talk with her after all the children are down.
Lori gave me some of the best advice. Before I used to have a problem of over-committing myself by not learning to say “no.” Lori told me: “Rich, remember when you say “yes” to someone or something even though it may be good; you are saying “no” to me and the children.” This has helped me to prioritize my life and not allow life’s apparently urgent things crowd out the important things in life. As I mentioned in my last year’s Christmas letter men have such a difficult role―being a good husband, father, provider, and servant leader in the home. Can one be great in all of these areas? I would say that we not only can, but we must. But the same skills we use at work just do not seem to work at home. At work, goals can be achieved and measured using the quality indicators, time clocks, the bottom line, guidelines, or surveys yet this hardly works for winning over your child’s heart. Just because a child’s heart can’t be easily measured, and rewards may not be evident until decades later, fathers we must not underestimate the impact we have on our sons’ and daughters’ hearts. Our impact at work may be realized for a decade or two, but our impact on the molding of our children’s heart, especially toward God ad others, will last them a lifetime. I heard a statemen that went something like this: “our children are our heritage left to reach a world that we will not know.” A child’s heart is a fragile and precious treasure that can’t be bought or forced but earned. Children measure quality time by quantity time. A commodity many of us have relegated to our jobs, committees, hobbies, and interests. Even though our children, my patients, my job are a high priority in my life the core of my life besides my relationship with God is our marriage. What is my job or our children if our marriage fails? I am committed to being the husband that God desires of me, to life up Lori to be all that God desires of her as woman, wife, and mother. If I fail, I let down God, Lori, and our children. I realize I cannot do this high calling on my own strength, so I draw upon wisdom and power from God, His Word, and from prayers of fellow brothers in Christ.
May this Christmas season be a time for all of us to draw nearer to Jesus, the true reason for the season, as we celebrate His birth. Merry Christmas!
Rich (for the Tanakas)