Christmas Counting

This is a long post, but it recalls a long day which has lasted ten years so far.

This weekend marks the tenth anniversary of my youngest daughter’s T1D diagnosis (aka “diaversary”). Ten years ago, progress to a cure seemed so close that we were told that a cure was within ten years. Many advances and technologies have continued to be developed and released to the public. JDRF continues to be a source of encouragement and inspiration. We certainly would not have weathered the transition from diagnosis to treatment without the very kind support and encouragement of the T1D community. It was and is still overwhelming. My youngest has endured much, and she inspires me.

The accompanying picture is one of my youngest’s stuffed toys which she slept with for many years. You can see how she, as a child, processed and coped with life with T1D as she added an insulin pump inset to the belly of the toy which mirrored the inset which she wears and changes every three days.

Below is the message I delivered the three weeks after her diagnosis at the Christmas Eve service where I minister. You may find it in my collection of Christmas stories entitled, The Night is O’er.

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:3-11

I oftentimes fall into the pattern of reducing my life to counting integers–the equally subdivided ticks on a line which quantify the things which I believe important. All this data, this numbering, is meant somehow to bring a predictability and control to my life. I count sermons, days, dollars, compliments, mistakes, peaceful minutes, and miles. On December 5, 2009, I started counting a new line.

It took three days for what I believed to be true to be confirmed. It was forty-five minutes from when my wife picked up our daughter from school until she called from the doctor’s office with the results of two tests which confirmed the diagnosis that our youngest, one of three lovely children, had what 39 other children in the U.S. would be diagnosed with on that very day: Juvenile Diabetes (T1D).

It is eleven miles or twenty minutes from our house to the Wake Forest Baptist Hospital’s Emergency Room, and it is nine floors up Ardmore Tower to room 810 at Brenner Children’s Hospital where we would stay for the next three days. On the evening of the second day, I am nervous, as I prepare to administer my daughter’s fourth injection — her first full day of injections for the rest of her days, and she is nervous. She is nervous because in her mind it counts as a shot. I am nervous because I count it the same, and this is my first time giving one. Her blood glucose is down to 211 from the 305 it was at dinner. I inject her with an insulin called Lantus (one of two types she receives) with one of the new pen-type syringes, one of three ways to administer insulin.

My daughter’s life and her parent’s lives are now divided into threes and subsets of threes. Three meals a day before which she receives a dose of insulin based on her blood sugar level. Three meals a day with one snack in between. We count 180 grams of carbohydrates per day, forty-five grams per meal, fifteen grams per snack. We keep meticulous records of her blood sugar and the times it is taken. This vigilance gives power to the illusion that the accurate and diligent collection of data provides control. Control means safety, and safety means that when I wake up at 2:37 in the morning and am unable to resist going into my daughter’s room to check on her, probably for the second time that night, I will find her okay, and that she will remain okay until I wake her, before the eighth hour to measure her blood sugar and to give her first shot.

Growing up, I had imagined that my membership among the number of humanity would mean that I would one day, count. I had hoped that this addition would add up to success, achievement, and a decent though not ostentatious life — one that would be both moderately enviable and worth emulating.

Over the course of my life, my counting has taken different forms. As a child, I counted presents at Christmas time and meatballs in my Spaghetti-O’s at dinner time. As a teenager, I counted the “hutts” as center for the high school football team before I passed the ball through my legs to the hands of a team mate whom I should’ve counted a much closer friend for the intimacy we shared five days a week for four months each fall. As a college student, I counted years, semesters and class hours till graduation. After graduation, I counted the dollars for an engagement ring which I would give to one whom I counted above all the rest and whom I was counting on saying “yes”. In my first real job as a teacher, I counted down the classes to the end of the day, the days of the week to Friday, and the hours of the weekend till Monday. As a seminary student I was one of a graduating class of ninety or so, who were counting on positions in a church in which they would go to make a difference and whose lives would “count for Christ”. While working in the second of three churches, I would learn to number mortgage payments, diapers, bottles of formula, and doses of Tylenol. I had always hoped that I would count, but I never imagined those things which I would end up counting. And now, I count blood sugar and doses of insulin.

In our house this December we’ve been counting the days until Christmas. It all changed on the fifth of those days. Since then, I’ve been thinking of how that first Christmas was replete with counting. When Gabriel first appeared to Mary to tell her that she was chosen to bear and raise the King, of whom the number of the days of his reign would have no end, she neither balked at her own unworthiness nor chaffed at the inconvenience. In humility she both rejoiced and received what was put upon her. You recall that when Mary became pregnant she was only betrothed to Joseph. And when Joseph discovered she was pregnant, he intended to divorce her privately because he was a kind man. Nevertheless, he could after all count, and a pregnant fiancé did not add up. But even while he was still counting what he should do, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him to assure him: Mary was carrying the one who would deliver his people from their sins. Joseph obeyed the command of God to marry a woman bearing a child not his own. The irregularity was plain for all to see. No doubt it was probably assumed that this couple, for whom some may have had high hopes, was not only un-special but also of no account.

It came about in the long line of human events, that Caesar Augustus wanted to count the world so that he might have more money to count. Because Joseph was numbered among the descendants of King David, Joseph and his new wife walked the eighty miles from Nazareth to the ancestral home of David’s descendants, Bethlehem. If you were to return to your home town, you would likely count on some help and a place to stay, but Mary and Joseph were relegated to the inn. Upon finding that all the inn’s rooms were counted full, the innkeeper offered the stable. In this stable, after her numbered days were completed, Mary delivered Jesus, the Son of David, the Son of Man, the Son of God… that he might deliver us.

Now in the fields beyond the region of Bethlehem, there were shepherds. Being good shepherds, they counted their sheep. They were not counting on the Angel of the Lord appearing among them glowing with light so heavy that it almost crushed them. The angel’s first words were, “Don’t be afraid.” He told them of the birth of Christ the Lord, and that they should go to see him. As a sign that this was both special and true, the Angel told them that they would find this king in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. At that moment, countless angels appeared in the dark sky, lit by numberless lights, and sang. They sang of wonder, of triumph, of the turning of the tide, of the good news that the interminable slide into the same ol’ same ol’, the relentless skid further into the ways things shouldn’t be, had been arrested by the stark cry of a newborn in the City of David. These shepherds (those whom the world did not count) marveled that they should be the first to hear this glorious news. They traveled to Bethlehem and saw it just as they were told, they shared with Mary and Joseph all that they had seen and heard, and they went away rejoicing and praising God.

About the same time in another land, wise men called magi, were counting stars in the sky and they counted a new star — a star which foretold the coming of the King of the Jews. These men also, came to see the new born king. Bearing gifts to honor the king, they rejoiced at being among the first number to visit and honor him. St. Luke tells us that Mary counted all these things as a dear treasure and pondered them in her heart even as she treasured the child in her arms.

As I take into account this Christmas (my forty-fourth) the numbered events of Jesus’ birth and the numbered circumstances which I and my family are walking through, I am strengthened by the good news that there was One who did not count.

Jesus himself counted. When he entered the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry, he counted both the cost  and the days of his temptation. As a good shepherd, Jesus counted and still counts the sheep. I’m sure he counted the days he had left with his disciples even as he counted down the Passovers. After being handed over by the religious elite to the efficient and heartless imperial justice, I do not doubt that he lost count of the lashes, the insults, and the blows. How could he have counted the weight of such a payment for such a debt and born the judgment of his Heavenly Father — one whom he never counted as an enemy?

Yet, St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians tells us that Jesus did not count one thing: “equality with God as something to be grasped”. The honor and glory rightly his was not one to be taken, demanded, or expected. Rather, it was to be received and conferred but only after his being born – born to serve and to suffer. In this act of love and obedience we see that Jesus did not count himself above the rest, but he numbered himself among the least: a homeless family with tainted reputation, wandering to the ancestral home of a dried up royal dynasty.

St. Paul tells us, that Christ “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men”. This means so much more to me this Christmas. I now realize that God in Christ subjected himself to the same body which has a pancreas and the same endocrinology which requires the pancreas to produce insulin so that cells can use glucose. By simply being born that first Christmas, the King of Glory bore the first of many ignominious sufferings. And though his coming to earth may mean many things, it does mean at least this: that he played by his own rules. Though he was greater, he did not count himself above the rest. He did not count himself above me or you or my Maddie. He counted the cost of the humiliation and the suffering and the waiting well worth the price because of the joy set before him.

St. Paul tells us that those for whom such a great accounting has been made, for those who treasure these things in their heart, they will be set free from counting. They are now set free from counting offenses born, rights owed, wrongs endured, successes achieved, victories won and failures lost. Rather, having been counted by the one who did not count, they will be set free from counting themselves so that they might count on Him and count others more important.

I will go home tonight and count. You too, will likely count hours till bedtime or hours till morning. If we are to keep Christmas, this Christmas, and if we are to keep from falling into the mire and false security of those things which you and I like to count on, we must treasure the one who “did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, and being born.”

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