816 Opinion

Treasure the gift of Christmas presence

This is the story of two young lives cut short.

Not exactly a festive topic to read on Christmas morning, I know.

But on this day of giving, the stories of these two young women can serve to remind us that the most cherished gifts of all don’t come wrapped in paper and bows.

It is a tragedy that we all too often fail to remember that until those blessings are taken away.

I was never fortunate enough to meet Rebecca Lueke.

Just 18, she was killed in a traffic crash earlier this month while returning to Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., where she was a freshman.

From what I’ve heard and read, those who did have the pleasure to know her were blessed in having the experience.

It was as if she were the personification of the saying only the good die young.

Someone shared with me something that Rebecca had written about her volunteer work at the Children’s Place in Kansas City. It captured the loving heart of someone who took joy in helping those less fortunate than she.

There is another young woman, whom I did have the chance to meet recently, who also possessed qualities like compassion and kindness and loyalty that define the best in human nature.

Jessica Masoner is also 18, and the tragedy that befell her was as sudden as that which took Rebecca’s life.

Jessica is still alive, but the inexplicably cruel disease that now possesses her body is incurable and slowing killing her.

She was by all accounts a typical teenager, full of spirit and as yet untouched by the cynicism of adulthood.

Then one day, with the suddenness of a lightning strike, her body was wracked by a seizure. It was the first sign of a disease so rare that only about 200 people have it worldwide.

Its insidious machinations have ravaged her mind and body and left her totally dependent on others. She is fortunate to have a strong and loving family, and meeting them, I know they feel that they are the lucky ones for having her.

Last week, thanks to Jessica, I was able to experience a rare and beautiful moment. Hundreds of young people who had never met her or her family spent weeks raising money to help them.

When the family came to the school to accept the gift, students hugged and cried, overcome by the joy of giving. Kansas City’s Secret Santa, a man who knows a thing or two about spreading joy, was also there and summed up what they had done.

“Tonight is what Christmas is all about,” he told them. “The human spirit united in an act of kindness and love.”

Being teenagers and all, I’m sure there were times when Jessica and Rebecca said and did things to anger and irritate their parents.

Lord knows my own children have. So have yours.

But when we gather around the Christmas tree this morning, I won’t need to unwrap anything to know how much I have been given.

And I won’t need to be reminded that the time we have with our children is fleeting, and so very, very precious.