July 28, 2006

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Celebrate the gift of life

What’s the greatest birthday gift you’ve ever received?

When I was a kid, it was probably the shiny new blue and gray Schwinn Thrasher BMX bike that I was given one year.

Nowadays, I usually don’t get such “fun” gifts. But birthdays are still fun for me. I just don’t anticipate them with the intensity that I had, say, 25 years ago.

I’m not like my son, Michael, who asked my wife and me the week after his last birthday when his next birthday would happen.

Although adulthood has made birthdays more low-key, it has also helped me see the important meaning to be found in them—even if these discoveries have happened in circumstances that I would have rather avoided.

Two of my last four birthdays have been spent in a hospital at the bedside of my children.

My birthday is on July 16. On that day in 2003, I learned that my son, Michael, who was 14 months old at the time and a patient at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis was suffering from pneumonia and was to have surgery the next day.

On this year’s birthday, my 18-month-old son, Raphael, had surgery at the south campus of St. Francis Hospital in Indianapolis to relieve an abscess in a severe infection of a lymph node behind his left ear.

These hospital stays over the past few years have led me to think differently about my birthday.

For one, I’m beginning to wish that I wasn’t born six weeks premature.

Two, I’ve found that my birthdays lately have been emotionally intense like they were when I was young, but for a vastly different reason.

Most importantly, they’ve allowed me to gain a new appreciation of the fundamental thing that underlies all birthday celebrations: the gift of life itself.

Despite all of its trials and tribulations, its failures and foibles, life is sweet. Our life and the creation in which we live it are gifts of unspeakable beauty from our God who loves us infinitely.

Jesus came to show us the path to life: “I came so that [you] might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10).

God shares this abundant life with me in Michael’s rambunctious play and vivid imagination, and Raphael’s sweet smile and bright eyes.

The hospitalization of both of my sons helped me to experience the value of the priceless gift of their lives and my own.

As my boys laid lethargically in their hospital beds, the abundance of their lives seemed to shrink.

As they were poked and prodded again and again, their lifeblood seemed to grow thin.

The gift of life seemed to be slipping from my hands.

But I re-embraced it with love when, thanks be to God, my wife and I were able to bring both of them home again.

Hopefully, in the years to come, my birthdays will be a lot more relaxed than they have been in recent years.

Nevertheless, I pray that my appreciation of the gift of life will remain strong.

So on your next birthday, celebrate the gift of life. †


Local site Links: