“Mom, you can’t do what you did last year about the Christmas tree.” Johnathan says, somewhat exasperated that he has to go there with me. He wants me to take it right. “Growing up you did some things I might have been embarrassed about, but you sure knew how to decorate a Christmas tree.” I haven’t put a tree up, not the ones I used to, for five years now. I laugh a little at the memories of past Christmases and I know that John has to be thinking of at least one spectacularly memorable Christmas. I know it was spectacularly memorable because he, Jake and Josh always took great delight in reminding me of it.
For the longest time I held out on fake trees and opted for the romantic but largely impractical beauty (well not always so much beauty) of a fresh tree. In the early, naive years, I felt compelled not to utilize tree farms. This meant a trip into the woods of Houston to find an appropriate specimen, a gloriously shaped Christmas tree, if at all possible, looking like a beautiful Colorado blue spruce. That can be somewhat challenging if all you have to work with is scrappy cedar or juvenile loblolly pines.
However, I am rarely deterred.
That particularly spectacularly memorable year, having scouted and found exactly the right tree, when upon lugging it’s sap seeping, insect covered, barky self back to our living room, it became painfully obvious it was way too tall, way too spindly and distinctly lopsided. Bob, always one to back me, began chopping some lowly branches so that it’s not so lush, spikey crown would not decimate the sparkly, spackle off our ceiling. That was the moment I had an epiphany.
“John, go get me that can of nails and hammer out of the garage.”
It seemed sensible to me. Frankly, it still does. What difference did it make if that tree had naturally full branches or I just nailed ones in places where they should have been in the first place.
It was years before I knew just how much this affected the psyche of my children. If not their psyche, it most certinaly left an indelible impression of Christmas, and most defiantly their mother.
But perhaps if your heart is in the right place, God takes care of us our missteps.
From the beginning of child bearing and child rearing, I started collecting ornaments. When we had no money, I tried my hand at making them. Aunt Judy, much better at handcrafts then me, perhaps not knowing just how valuable her gift of time and talent would mean in years to come, added to our collection, delicately painted and sweet ornaments, always with the names of three little boys in Houston, inscribed for them to know and remember that someone in Missouri loved them.
What ever there was, bought or made, purchased or collected, I did in threes. For one day, my three sons, when the right time came, would decorate their own trees with a box of ornaments, a collection of years. Disregarding and oblivious to trends and whims of tree decorating, I weighted our tree with mismatched and no-color schemed memories of hope and joy and the future.
“Mom,” John says, his hand over my shoulder, a bit of loss and apprehension in his own eyes, “Our Christmas trees.. well they were beautiful. Do it this year.” Standing there together, I thought about what Christmas had become during the time my boys had become men. I thought about Christmases past, before time and catastrophe changed who we were at Christmas.
There was the time the three of them, knowing I had looked lovingly at a beautiful new couch and chair, purchased it, picked it up, stowed it secretly and then with banging and quiet laughter, delivered it to my living room, in the middle of Christmas Eve night. You know, I love that couch and chair solely for what it says about the souls and hearts of my sons. There is little else I feel about its soft cushions then just how much my sons love me.
The funny thing about all this is, I am thinking, while John has his arm around me, is I never knew that they had ever really noticed those crazy, beautiful, dear ornaments that for years I had packed neatly away, thinking of the next season of joy. “We all loved the tree, Mom”, John says, he knowing what I would want, would hope, would need, to hear this about all three of my boys.
“Okay, Johnathan. Thank you. I will.” I tell him, and it’s just a small epiphany that grows till I know this year, my heart will feel different. God had already been preparing me because there has been an increasing peace about Jake. It largely has to do with now when I am blue, I immediately close my eyes, and ask God, my Father, to wrap his arms around me. It has a lot to do with understanding more each day, what it means that Christ died for me so just how grateful I am that I can celebrate His birth. It comes from even though I doubt, and I wish I could say there aren’t those time, but there are, I know that is normal and despite where my mind goes on those days, there are eternal promises, that I can just accept no matter how I feel. And then there is that part that comes from my Johnathan, the voice of three sons, the voice of his own heart.
Make it Christmas again, Mom, celebrate the joy and beauty of the season, in memories and heart, with ornaments, heavy on our Christmas tree, full of sweet thoughts and hope and grace.
Some things are just the right thing to do.