The One Where I Got Benched for Christmas

An ill-timed back surgery proves to be just what the doctored ordered for one Fort Worth mom.Even if I wanted to cry out, “Put me in, coach!” I wasn’t able to make such a request. This is what happened when I had a surprise back surgery on December 5, 2013, and I got benched for the entire Christmas season.

I’d lived with sciatic and back pain for two years, and my right foot was beginning to go numb periodically. It was time to do something about it; I finally admitted I was barely functioning.

During a consult with a neurosurgeon specializing in the spine, he agreed to squeeze me in for a repair of my ruptured L5 disc that same afternoon. We were snowed in at the specialist’s in Houston and couldn’t get home to Dallas, so my gutsy husband was bold enough to ask if the surgery was available that same day. We were floored when he said he could make it work.

I was whisked away to admitting and within hours, I was wheeled back for surgery. As promised, I awoke from my outpatient surgery with no sciatic pain.

It was my own little Christmas miracle. And I was content enough with that relief from pain, even though I had post-operation pain from which to heal.

I couldn’t foresee how remarkable it would be to become benched for Christmas.

This overachiever, perfectionist who strives to do ALL. THE. THINGS. without an ounce of mediocrity suddenly had my hand forced. Or my back? Whatever.

Doctor’s orders were a full week of medication every four hours, lying down completely. Then, I was to begin sitting up very slowly and moving about. In other words, my surgeon said that he was commanding bedrest for about three weeks, which happened to fall on Christmas.

This forced bedrest became the best Christmas gift ever. There simply was not a darn thing I could do, quite literally. No more gifts could be purchased, or events attended, or schedules upheld.

Whatever I had previously purchased was the completion of all gift shopping. My dearest friend spoke my love language when she came and sat on the floor next to my bed, wrapping said gifts and chatting with me.

I never felt so cherished.

My kids decorated the tree as I sat on the couch next to them for about 20 minutes before I needed to head back to bed. Ornaments askew or not where I’d put them? Too bad. It was done. And it truly never looked better to me.

Our church family brought meals and served us well, and my husband and kids climbed in bed with me, displaying a most notable devotion marked by their endurance of countless Hallmark movies while I drifted in and out of drug-induced sleep.

As weird as it might sound, I have to say that 2013 was perhaps my best Christmas. All expectations for tasks and calendars were removed. All that was left was just being together. During my recovery, true friends and family rallied, and it humbled me greatly to be shown such kindnesses.

Given no choice in the matter, as the Christmas season was stripped down to the bare basics, I could see that this was enough. In fact, all that was left was actually the heart of the season.

Banished were any attempts at shopping, decorating, and over scheduling. In the wake of the surgery disruption, I discovered how much I could actually let go. It was transformative to realize how distracted I’d allowed myself to become with holiday non-essentials.

All in all, I highly recommend a back surgery or other such reason that might necessitate such a simple Christmas.

Or, better yet – just learn the lesson without the pain.

Consider this your permission slip to pare down and simplify and say no. Say no to the rush and the pressure and the things that spike your blood pressure and raise your anxiety levels. This will leave room to say yes to just being together, savoring the memory making.

Take a good hard look at how you are actually expending your time and money and energy around Christmas and ask yourself if these things will matter in five or ten years. Think about what you most fondly recall from your own childhood Christmases.

If something doesn’t make the list that you are currently distracted with, give pause to the investment of the precious holiday season. Be daring enough to make some cuts, and learn what I learned the hard way. Not only will Christmas still be Christmas without the extras, it actually will become more magical and memorable.

Heather has called the Fort Worth area home since 1995, after growing up as an Army brat and preacher's kid. She's married to her college sweetheart, Chris (Sic' Em Bears!). Their kids include Collin (1999) and his wife Elizabeth (1999), Cooper (2001), and Caris (2004). Heather is the co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit organization, The Adoptee Collective, which offers lifetime adoptee support and post adoption resources, as well as pre-adoption education. Heather is also a TBRI® Practitioner. Heather has authored and published multiple books and she finds joy in using her gifts, time, and energy toward her life goal to finish empty.


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