December 2016. What is so interesting or noteworthy about this time of year? Christmas, for one thing, is very noteworthy, especially because of the “who” and the “why.” More on that later.
As I began the process of putting down my thoughts for this space, I came across an old, slightly yellowing newspaper clipping, dated Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2001.
It was given to me by an elderly friend I have known for years. Now deceased, Frank Wiens was an intelligent, compassionate man, whose gift of encouragement was especially essential during those early years while our family lived through one health crisis after another.
The newspaper clipping is of my column written for another publication. In it, I write about the unthinkable horror occurring in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, while our daughter was in surgery in a Falls Church, Va., hospital to remove a large tumor from her brain.
These were two unrelated and senseless tragedies, coming together on that fateful day. Little did we know or even comprehend why people in another land would plot to kill hundreds or thousands of nameless citizens without remorse. Our family, however, had just begun to acknowledge what might be our worst fear. Our doctor’s prognosis was that we might not see our daughter alive again, and even if we were fortunate, she might not return to us “whole.”
Our daughter survived, against all odds. For that, we were rejoicing and thankful Jessica was alive and in full recovery. Yet, overshadowing our jubilation was the tragedy and immense loss of life that occurred in another distant city.
The Sunday following publication of my reflections of that day, Mr. Wiens approached me in church and gave me this clipping. It was his way of saying, “I am aware of your pain, and I am here to shoulder your burden with you.”
With the approach of the most important holiday, it is good to take the time to reflect on wonderful experiences we have with family and friends, but to also express appreciation for those people who have taken the extra step — often out of their way — to lighten the burden and offer encouragement along the way.
Mr. Wiens’ example is sufficient motivation to follow his lead. The mere act of being a friend to shoulder the burden can become a lifeline for someone experiencing unspeakable tragedy. It is not a heroic act with much fanfare. It is, however, a private, kind, loving, caring act, often without the spoken word. Sometimes, just being there is enough to bring comfort and relief.
Christmas is about the celebration of the birth of One who not only walked alongside to bear our burdens, but took all the hurts, the loss and pain caused by sin, and placed them upon himself. This is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Our hero and friend!
Penner is a Marion County farmer and past president of the National Association of Wheat Growers. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.