About three years back there was a little boy who had come with his grandmother to the Mayfair Mall in Wisconsin. He could barely contain himself when he climbed up on Santa’s lap carrying a picture with him of an adorable little girl roughly about his age.
“And who would this be” Santa bellowed, while sporting a grin. “A friend of yours? A sister perhaps?”
“Yes, sir” the boy replied. “It’s my sister, Sarah, and she is too sick to be here, but I wanted her to come with me to see you.” Santa took a glance at the grandmother who was patiently waiting nearby, wiping at her eyes with a cloth.
“She really wanted to come see you, Santa. She misses you a whole bunch,” he said softly.
Santa did his best to stay jolly for the boy, but behind his smile he his heart ached for the family; he asked the boy what he wanted for Christmas, and of course he wanted his sister to get better. When the boy finished his visit his grandmother helped him off of Santa’s lap, and she began to say something but stopped herself.
But Santa noticed her hesitance. “What is it?” he asked warmly.
She shooed her grandson over to the elves so that he could receive his little gift, and she turned to him with a strain in her face. “Well, I know it’s too much to ask of you, Santa, but that girl in the photo is my granddaughter, and she has leukemia you see? As much as it hurts me to say this… well she isn’t expected to make it through the holidays, and the only thing she wants for Christmas is to see you.”
Her eyes were filled with tears at this point. “I don’t expect you to say yes, as I know you and the elves are awfully busy this time of year, but would there be any way you might be able to stop in and see her? It would make her last holiday a special one.”
Santa swallowed hard and fought back his sadness; he didn’t want the kids to see him all worked up. He knew what he had to do, and he told her to leave her information with her helpers and that he would see what he could do. The grandmother hugged him tightly and thanked him.
The rest of that afternoon he couldn’t think of anything else besides that little girl.
He thought about how he would feel if it were his little girl dying in that hospital bed: he would do anything to make sure her final days were as joyous as he could. Visiting this little girl was the very least he could do.
After all the boys and girls had finished their visit with Santa he went to his helpers to find out where little Sarah was staying. Santa didn’t know where the hospital was, and he approached the assistant location manager to ask for directions to the children’s ward.
Rick was the manager on duty that night, and of course he was puzzled to see Santa still here so late in the evening, but after he relayed Sarah’s story, Rick told Santa that he would be honored to drive him to the children’s ward personally.
When they arrived at the hospital they found out what room Sarah was staying in. Rick stayed in the hall while a jolly old Saint Nicholas quietly took a peek into the room, and saw little Sarah all wrapped up in her bed.
The room was packed with family members: her brother and grandmother were there, as well as her mother and aunt. The girl’s mother was lightly stroking her daughter’s hair, and was talking with her quietly to keep her mind off her situation. Santa could feel the love and closeness this family had, he knew right then and there that this is what his job is all about.
He took in a deep breath, put on a smile, and he slowly entered the room with a hearty “Ho, ho, ho!” Sarah’s eyes lit up the entire room and she let out a shriek of excitement: “Santa!” She tried to pull herself from her bed, but the IV tubes kept her in place, and he rushed to her side to give her the biggest warmest hug he could muster.
She was only nine years old, the same age as his own daughter, and she was looking at him like he was the greatest thing in the world. His heart could hardly take it.
Sarah’s skin was ghost white, and chemotherapy had left her golden hair was patches and bald spots, but nothing caught his attention more than her enormous crystal blue eyes. He fought back tears but he couldn’t look away from her: she was the sweetest thing he had ever seen and reminded him of his own little girl at home; everyone in the room was in awe.
As the two spoke with one another her family approached him one by one, hugging him tightly, and whispering “thank you” as they wiped away their tears of joy.
Santa and Sarah talked the night away, and she told him all about the various toys she wanted for Christmas, but especially the toys she wanted for her little brother. She promised him that she had very good that year, and Santa chuckled and told her that he already knew she was.
He looked at her with very intense eyes and he asked her very seriously, “Sarah, do you believe in angels.” She nodded back to him, “Uh huh, my Mama told me all about angels.” “Well,” said Santa, “I’m going to ask that the angels watch over you and your family,” and he gently placed his hand on Sarah’s head, he closed his eyes, and he said a prayer.
He asked that God heal Sarah’s body from this disease, and he asked that the angels watch over her and keep her safe. Amen. And when Santa’s prayer was done he softly sang a Christmas Carol: his favorite one. The family joined him and they sang in unison.
“Silent Night. Holy Night. All is calm, all is bright.”
The family held hands and they cried tears of joy; Santa had given them the gift of hope, and little Sarah lay there quietly: the happiest little girl on earth. When they were all done he took her by the hand and he said very seriously: “Now Sarah, you have a very important job to do.”
“What’s that?” she asked. “You need to focus on getting better. I want you to think about playing with your friends next summer, and I expect you to come and visit me next year, do you understand?”
Sarah gave him a firm nod. Santa knew that what he was saying to this little girl was unlikely, but he had faith in God that she would pull through. He knew that Sarah needed something more than toys: she needed love, and she needed hope. He gave her both.
“Yes, Santa!” she said excitedly, “I’ll be sure to visit you next year.” “Do you promise?” Santa asked.
He leaned in and kissed her on her forehead and left the room. When he was outside he wrote her grandmother a check: enough to get her and her brother all the toys she had requested; he told her that he could never thank her enough for asking him to be here, and that he was going to go home and hug his daughter extra tightly tonight.
They shared final hug, and a few tears, and Santa left to head home.
A year later at the Mayfair Mall in Milwaukee Wisconsin Santa Mark was back for his seasonal work. Several weeks had passed since his Santa work began again, when one day a pretty girl with a full head of long blonde hair, and two big beautiful blue eyes, climbed up all by herself and sat on his lap.
“Hi Santa, do you remember me?” “Ho, ho, ho, of course I do. How could I forget someone like you?” He would say the same thing to every child who sat on his lap; there were so many, and it was important of any good Santa to make each and every one of them feel special.
“Thank you for coming to see me in the hospital last year.”
His jaw hit the floor. Santa’s eyes welled up and he pulled her tightly into his chest; God had answered his prayer: she was healed, and he could hardly even recognize her.
It was a miracle.
“Sarah!” he cried out, and he stared at her rose cheeks as emotion rushed over him. I looked over to see her mother, grandmother, and brother, all waiting in line: they were waving and wiping their eyes.
This was the best Christmas present that Mark could ever have wished for: to witness a holiday miracle with his own two eyes, and to have played a role in God’s divine plan. Sarah was healed; she was completely free of cancer.
He looked up to the heavens and he whispered quietly, with a gratitude that very few of us truly know:
“Thank you, Father. ‘Tis the merriest Christmas of all.”