As I pulled away from the hospital parking lot, I wasn't expecting something special to happen. The day seemed like all others. Every day I made a one-hour trip to the hospital for my three-year-old child to get his daily radiation treatment. Every day when we left the hospital, we passed the Santa in front of the flower shop on The Esplanade. And every day my son, Cameron, asked to see him.
Today was no exception.
As I pulled onto the street, the shops and businesses that I'd driven past daily for almost six weeks melted into a monotonous blur. I had memorized this road and barely had to concentrate on maneuvering my car. My mind was free to brood over my worries.
So much to do with only two days left until Christmas. I checked off my mental list: mail Aunt Ellen's package...shop for the boys...wrap Mom and Dad's presents...
Cameron shouted from his car seat behind me, bringing my mind back to the present. "Mommy, I wanna see Santa!"
I glanced to the side of the road, and there sat the same Santa we'd driven past for weeks now, waving and smiling the same bearded smile.
"Cameron, I have to do some shopping. There's probably a Santa out there for you to see," I told him.
"I don't want that Santa Claus - I wanna see this Santa!" Cameron protested loudly.
"Okay, okay, I'll try to get over."
I tried to weave into the right lane to go around the block, but I couldn't get over. I tried for several blocks and still didn't manage it.
What is this? I thought. The traffic is never this bad at this time of the day. Finally, I gave up.
"Cameron, I couldn't get over," I said. "We'll have to see the Santa at the mall."
My son wailed all the way to the mall. I glanced at him in the rearview mirror.
Poor little guy, I thought. He's as pale as a ghost, and looks a sight with his hair almost gone.
I wondered about the results of our doctor's last effort to radiate away a second cancerous brain tumor in Cameron's small head. They didn't want to attempt another operation on someone so young - he was only eighteen months when he'd had the first surgery. Oh, how we had rejoiced when they said they'd "got it all." We'd hoped, held our breath, prayed and hoped some more for two long years. Then just six weeks before Christmas 1986, we'd been told the tumor had grown again.
Although my hopes dwindled, I knew we had to keep fighting it. When the doctors suggested radiation treatment, we agreed, even though I knew it would mean a two-hour daily drive to a larger city for six weeks up to Christmas Day. The drive, stress and worry were draining me, even as the radiation drained the life from Cameron's once-pink cheeks.
I entered the mall with a heavy heart. The sounds, sights and smells of Christmas were everywhere: Lights and colors flashing, the jingle of the Salvation Army bell, carols playing softly in the background, package-laden people rushing here and there, some tense, some laughing. A candy shop cooled chocolate fudge on its counter....
Christmas everywhere but in my heart, I thought, as we stopped at the back of the line to see Santa.
The long line moved slowly. Children whined and mothers grew impatient. I clutched Cameron's cool, small hand and gazed at him wistfully, wishing away the whiteness of his skin. He was stretching his neck for a better view and had an expectant gleam in his eyes. We were almost up to Santa!
Finally, it was our turn. Cameron scrambled up into the ornate, red sleigh and looked up into Santa's face with anticipation. I stood off to the side and watched.
"Well, what do we have here?" Santa asked, noticing Cameron's balding head. "Are you going to have an operation, son?"
"No, he's having radiation for a brain tumor," I answered from where I stood.
"What's his name?"
"Cameron!" my son piped up.
"Come over here, Mom," Santa called. I stepped nearer to hear him. "You know that after the doctors have done all they can with their technology, that the ultimate healing is up to the Lord."
"Oh, absolutely!" I agreed.
"Would you sit up here with me, Mom?" I climbed up into the sleigh.
"Do you mind if I pray for this little guy?" I shook my head. Santa continued, "I had a serious problem in my brain at one time and the Lord healed me. I believe He will heal Cameron, too."
Santa pulled Cameron and me close, and I felt as if God had reached down and wrapped me up in a warm hug. I needed it so badly right at that moment.
Santa prayed, "Father, I ask you to touch this little fella from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. Make him feel good for Christmas. Your word promises us, 'for nothing is impossible with God.' We thank you for healing this little child's body. Amen."
When I opened my eyes, about thirty people had gathered around the sleigh, some bewildered, others with knowing looks. I thanked Santa. With Cameron beaming, he and I left the mall.
On the ride home, I realized how easily I could have missed that special moment. But God had something much better planned.
He had steered me to a Santa whose fur-clad arms were used by God to touch me with his concern, and whose lips had offered a prayer of hope when I was too weak to pray. God had led my small son and me to a saintly Santa - the Santa he would use to put Christmas back into our hearts!