I used to love this time of year. I loved everything about it. The decorations, the music, the tinsel, the gifts, the onslaught of Christmas-themed movies and television programs. The sounds and sights of Christmas once set my heart to beat a little quicker, my feet to step a little higher.

I still love this time of year . . . but it’s different. Maybe I’m just older. Hopefully, I’m wiser. But for some reason, I’m no longer the first person on the block to set up my Christmas tree. I don’t display every Christmas decoration I own. And I don’t worry about having every gift perfectly wrapped for December 25.

I don’t know when or why my blazing Christmas spirit began to fade to a flicker. I suppose it was around the time, nearly a decade ago, when my family dealt with another C-word. A word not nearly as pleasant as Christmas. A five-letter word that has the power to stop us in our tracks. A word that has brought even the most stubborn unbeliever to his knees in prayer.

Cancer.  

It’s a bully if I ever met one. It picks on the weak, preys on the innocent. It threatens and claws and kicks and punches, trying its best to suck the life out of its victims. It’s a mean disease. It knows no limits, shows no mercy.

It took my dad.

But this vile disease unknowingly brought some special blessings into our lives. Somehow, when cancer shows up, things just change. Priorities shift. Big events seem less significant, and ordinary things take on a new, cherished status.  

Before cancer came into our lives, I took Christmas for granted. I always assumed there’d be another Christmas, another New Year, another time to celebrate. But I’ve wised up. Now, I slow down and cherish this season. I no longer stress my schedule with a jungle of holiday cheer. Instead, I leave big, fat empty boxes on my calendar to just be. To just live.

To just love.

Now, I don’t worry over decorations and presents and wrapping paper and parties and recipes. Instead, I’ve learned that the real gifts of Christmas are the people God’s given me to love. After all, on that first Christmas, there was no light-festooned tree. There were no parties or cheese balls or ugly sweaters. And the only music was the sound of angels, celebrating a life. Celebrating love, for God is love.

This Christmas, I’ll eventually decorate my house. We may even throw some lights in the shrubs. And on Christmas morning, there will be presents to unwrap.

But this year, those things don’t represent the meaning of Christmas. My Christmas gift—the only one I want—is time with the people I love. I want to love them as much as I can, in every possible way, until the stockings of their hearts spill over.

I want to love them the way God loves me. And truly, if I can do that, I’ll have Christmas every day of my life.

Renae Brumbaugh Green is a bestselling author and award-winning humor columnist. She lives in Stephenville with her handsome, country-boy husband, nearly-perfect children, and far too many animals. Connect with Renae at www.RenaeBrumbaugh.com.