As I sit here writing this, my heart is breaking for a family in my community: the family of Delaney Brown. You may have seen her on the news, but for those of you who don’t know, Laney Brown is an eight year old girl who is battling a rare form of leukemia. The doctors have told her family she only has days or weeks to live and today I read a gut-wrenching post written by her earthly father about the last moments they may be having with their sweet angel right now. On their Facebook page, “Team Laney”, her parents share updates on how she is doing with the 135,000 followers who have become captivated by this everyday hero. In this way, the family has shared their smiles, tears, hearts, and souls with anyone who wants to partake in their journey. Through this glimpse into the lives of the Brown family, complete strangers have rallied together, celebrating the triumphs, suffering in the heartbreak, and uniting their prayers all because of the beautiful spirit of one amazing girl and her faithful family. Everyone it seems (including myself) is praying for a Christmas miracle. Take one look at her infectious smile and read all about her positive attitude and abundant hope and you’ll see why, if anyone deserved a miracle, it was this little warrior. But what melts my heart every time is the miracle that has already occurred.
One of Laney’s wishes was to have Christmas carolers come to her house. Almost immediately after this was made known on Facebook, people began to make preparations to make this wish a reality. On December 23, over 8,000 people from the community lifted their voices in song to raise the spirits of one little girl.
Now I’ve been wanting to write something about Laney and her family since I first read about their story because she has become such a source of inspiration in her short years, and because cancer is something that is so close to my heart. Laney has two siblings, Kylee and Jacob. I understand how hard it is to watch a sibling battle childhood cancer and my heart breaks for them too.
So I told God I would write something if He told me what He wanted the message to be. Well, the other night, I was cuddled up in my basement watching Hallmark movies, when God was there. Yep, that’s right. God spoke to me loud and clear….through Hallmark.
I was watching a movie called “November Christmas." It was about the journey of an eight year old girl with cancer and how her family, along with her whole community, worked together to bring Christmas to her a little early. As I was watching the movie, I couldn’t help but think of the striking similarities between the characters and events in the movie and the people and recent events in my own hometown. First of all, the main character in the movie, Veronica, was an eight year old girl with a rare form of cancer, a lively spirit, and the gift of seeing beauty all around her. The girl in the movie might as well have been Laney. It may seem silly, but the movie was, for me, God persisting on my heart. “Okay, God, I get it. But what’s the message?” Cue the commercial break. And then I heard it…Hallmark’s catchphrase around this time of year: “The Heart of Christmas."
This may not seem significant, but the one thing that I’ve been thinking about A LOT in connection with Laney is this song I stumbled upon called “The Heart of Christmas," by Matthew West. This song never specifically mentions the word “cancer," but it always reminded me of Laney’s story and the symbol of love she has become, a reminder to slow down and cherish each moment. (Side note: Last night, I found out that the lyrics to this song were actually inspired by a true story of the family of a boy with leukemia and that there is a movie also titled “The Heart of Christmas” sharing this story. Coincidence? I think not). Anyway, there it was folks, clear as day, the message God wants all of us to remember this time of year: the heart of Christmas.
We’ve heard it a thousand times in a million different ways: Jesus is the reason for the season. We know it, we acknowledge it, but do we live it? Have we allowed Love Himself to be born in our hearts or have we said to Him, “There’s no room in this inn?" Do we love the idea of Jesus coming to save us or do we love Jesus himself?
The heart of Christmas is the gift of love. It’s not just loving those people who make us feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. As Laney’s father reminded us all in a recent post, “The biggest difference [between the heavenly Father and I] is that he could have stopped all of it in a blink of an eye. He never had to see his son suffer one bit. But he chose to and why? Because he loves us, all of us. Not just for the wonderful little angels out there but the guy who shoved the spear into his side, for the one who whipped his son brutally, and for the one who drove the nails into his hands and feet. And for the ones who mocked him and crowned his son with thorns."
“In the shadow of a steeple. In a star that lights the way. You will find Him in a manger. The heart of Christmas has a name...”
During this season of giving, we are called to love in a special way those who hurt us, to forgive, to let go, and to spread the joy of Christmas. Even when we don’t want to forgive that parent who hurt us, to love that sister who is hard to love, to smile at that cashier who was rude or grouchy, to give to that homeless person on the street. Even when it hurts to do these things. During the Christmas season it may be a little easier to do this; most people seem just a little bit happier. But we are called to make every day Christmas. To allow Christ to be reborn in us every single day and to go out and share this Love with others even when it isn’t easy.
Because what good would it be to receive love, but keep it for ourselves without giving it back?
It’s so easy in the world we live in today to get so caught up in the holiday chaos of finding the perfect gifts, decorating the tree, baking cookies, and planning parties, and you know, making all of those returns. I do it, we all do. But let’s take the time now to think about what’s really important. To let the world know who Jesus Christ is by how we live our lives. To share the greatest paradox known to man: strength born through weakness, eternity born in time, perfection born for those who sin.
One little girl and her family has brought us all back to the heart of Christmas and reminded us that anything can be done with love, even suffering.
Editor's Note: On December 25th, 2013, after a valiant eight year battle against Leukemia, God called his little angel back to heaven. Her father wrote the following on December 26th, "This house is still full of all the medical machines and her birthday presents, her Christmas presents, all the beautiful Christmas decorations, and are pets. And though we are down only one child, this house feels so empty. My life will never be the same since that little angel touched it. Last night there was beautiful candles lighting my street...Then when I looked outside I saw an absolutely beautiful snowfall, thank you God of heaven, I know that was you. You quell my aching soul...I feel that this is a gift in unfortunate circumstances." Rest in peace, little Laney. Sleep tight. Your battle is over.
Teressa Schuetz is a sophmore at Mount St. Mary's University and is studying early childhood education. She has led multiple youth retreats.