“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
I don’t know how much pain was coursing through Ivan’s body after he woke in a pool of his own blood on our bathroom floor, but I do know it produced a very abnormal reaction. His first response wasn’t to care for himself. It was to care for me. Most people with Ivan’s injuries would have been too disoriented to think straight or to care much about anything even if they could. Ivan was not only thinking straight, but he was opting for the slowest possible route to the hospital so that I wouldn’t wake up. He worried that if I found him covered in blood I would panic, turn on the wrong light, and possibly have a seizure. So he did what I could never have done. He remained completely silent, texted Dad what had happened, and also told him NOT to call back so I wouldn’t wake up. Then he grabbed paper towels and began cleaning up in case I did wake up and check on him.
I knew Ivan had been feeling sick, but I was puzzled when I heard a thud, then silence, then scrubbing when he headed for the bathroom that night. I decided that he must not have made it to the toilet in time, but I finally got up to investigate when the scrubbing went on longer than it should have. I was horrified to find him seated by the bathtub, blood running out of his right ear and down the front of his clothes. It was not until later that I realized the clean bathroom floor under my feet on was the result of the past twenty minutes of scrubbing. When I asked him what happened, he only shook his head and pointed to a string of text messages on his phone. I could deduce from the texts that Ivan had fallen, that he thought he’d damaged his ear drum, and that Dad would probably arrive in around five minutes. What I couldn’t understand was why Ivan wouldn’t talk to me. The truth was that he didn’t want me to realize his mouth was full of blood. He finally managed to request some clean clothes, but as I scrambled into our bedroom I felt myself starting to get queasy from the trickles of blood I had seen. I’ve never done well around injuries, and I still get light-headed even after my own accident. Get yourself together, I thought. There’s something very wrong with Ivan and all you have to find is socks. Think of everything he’s done for you over the past three years. Just as I started blacking out, I felt Ivan beside me. “You’re going to vomit,” he forced out between clenched teeth. “Sit down in closet. I’ll get socks.” He’d come looking for me.
Ivan had fully clothed himself by the time my parents arrived at our apartment a few minutes later. I was still in the closet, trying not to be sick. The last thing I heard before Dad ushered him into the hall was Ivan telling Mom to go find me in the closet.
After three years of December crises – first my accident, then generalized seizures, and now Ivan’s surgery this afternoon – I’ll admit to being a little jaded by the season that celebrates “Peace on earth, good will to men” and “God with us.” But reflecting on the accident story above also makes me wonder if it’s a micro picture of what the Christmas season is all about. Those well-known phrases portray Christ as our ultimate caregiver-redeemer, a role that cost that baby in a manager a lifetime of humanity and culminated in torture on a cross. No flawed human illustration could claim any real parallel with the miraculous story of our salvation. But as I fight the urge to ask “Why?” while waiting for the man who’s cared for me the past three years to go into surgery this afternoon, I have to thank God for reminding me about the gritty side of Christmas. Christmas came at an unknowable cost to Christ. And though my family’s Christmases feel unreasonably painful from a human perspective, I’m thankful that they remind me of the priceless eternal life bought by that baby in a manger.