A brown construction- paper square, folded into a triangle. One red circle centered above the lowest point for a nose. Faded blue circle eyes. And poking above the top, a pair of stubby antlers.

Every year when I retrieve our family’s Christmas decorations from the attic, I cherish this one most: my only Christmas card from my 7-year-old daughter, Ruth.

Ruth, who was abandoned at birth, couldn’t walk or talk or care for herself. Cerebral palsy – caused by a rare condition shortly after birth in a Ugandan hospital – had taken those abilities way. But Ruth could smile. And laugh. And she was smart. My husband, Dana, and I met her when she was 15-months-old and staying with friends through a medical organization that had brought her to Maine for physical therapy. After praying and seeking advice from doctors, lawyers and friends, we and our three young children decided to adopt.

Nine months later, Ruth was legally ours. With each challenge – including discovering that Ruth was deaf – we worked hard to get the help she needed. Ruth worked even harder, quickly learning to understand both American Sign Language and spoken language with the help of a cochlear implant. By the beginning of first grade, she could add simple numbers and spell words by gazing at the correct number or letter on a piece of paper printed with the alphabet.

At 7, Ruth began communicating with a computer, and we were eager to discover the wonders she’d be able to tell us. That Christmas, Ruth’s aide helped her pick out presents for our family at the school’s holiday bazaar. She brought them home in her backpack, squealing with anticipation as I pulled them from the inside pocket.

“Are these for us?” I held up a crinkly package

Ayeeeee! Ruth squealed, her whole body tightening in excitement.

“Do you want me to put them under the Christmas tree?”

Ayeeeeeeeeeee! Ruth squealed louder, kicking her feet against the footrests of her wheelchair.

Then I pulled out the construction-paper card, shaped like a reindeer, which I paper-clipped to a red ribbon strung above the kitchen window.

On Christmas morning, we ooohed and aaahed over Ruth’s gifts – a blue crocheted flower for me, a scarf for her dad, mazes and games for her older brothers and sister, a teddy bear for her new baby brother. We gave Ruth a fabric cradle with handles to carry her favorite doll. I sewed pillows and a matching cover for the mattress where she sometimes enjoyed laying in a corner of the living room. And I gave her a book. I know I must have given Ruth a book. Reading was one of our favorite activities.

Later, we bundled Ruth in her wheelchair – favorite doll tucked in her new bed – and went for a stroll through the falling snow. After years of struggling, everything seemed so good, so full of promise. But six weeks later, Ruth came down with a fever. Nothing serious. Not even a cough. But she was tired and wanted to stay home from school. At the end of the week, her fever returned. We called Ruth’s pediatrician, gave her the suggested medicine, and her fever went away. Then, two days later, we woke to find that Ruth had died in her sleep.

“With CP,” the emergency room doctor explained later that fateful day, “sometimes these things just happen.”

Later, we met families who had lost children with cerebral palsy in the same devastatingly sudden way.

But this wasn’t supposed to happen to us.

Not to me.

Not to our daughter.

I wasn’t ready.

Our family wasn’t ready.

Riven by sorrow, my faith was shattered.

Souls hollowed, we stumbled through the following year. When it came time to climb in the attic and pull down Christmas decorations, we went through the motions for the sake of our children. And then I opened a box and saw a brown construction-paper square, folded into a triangle. One red circle centered above the lowest point for a nose. Two faded blue circle eyes. And poking above the top, a pair of stubby antlers.

Sitting in a rocking chair, I opened the card, startled to see Ruth’s smiling face grinning back at me, a pair of red, twinkling antlers on her head. And then I read the words an aide had helped Ruth write underneath.

“To my family,” they said. “I think I am ready to go have fun. I am happy. Love, Ruth.”

Blinking back tears, I called my children, “Come see what I found!”

How could Ruth have known, picking those words letter-by-letter twelve months before, that it was the very message my weeping heart would need to hear? That even if I wasn’t ready, she was. That she was happy. Wonder indeed.

Every year since, Ruth’s card reminds me that because of Christmas, those we have lost are not lost forever. “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given,” the prophet Isaiah wrote. And I, like the poor shepherds, who left their flocks to see the fulfillment of what had been promised, and the treasure-laden wisemen who journeyed so far, following a star through the darkest night, cling to this hope – the hope of Christmas.

Meadow Rue Merrill, the author of “Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores,” writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. Connect at www.meadowrue.com.