As I glanced around my mother-in-law’s living room, I tried to hide my disappointment. My daughter, Karen, tugged on her grandmother’s pants. “Where’s your Christmas tree, Nana?”
Miriam looked apologetically around the room. “Well, Sugar, it’s in storage while we build our new house. This rental wasn’t big enough for all of our stuff.”
Karen’s bottom lip protruded and her eyes began to mist. Miriam quickly kneeled down and squeezed the tiny red head. “But I have a plan. We’re going to have an old-fashioned Christmas.”
“What’s an old-fashioned Christmas?” My older daughter, Kristi, asked suspiciously.
“We’ll find a tree in the woods and chop it down. And we’ll make all our own ornaments.” Miriam tucked one of Karen’s loose curls behind her ear. “How’s that sound?”
Kristi clapped her hands. “That’s sounds great,” she said enthusiastically. Karen’s eyes brightened and she nodded her head. Despite their excitement, I was skeptical and disappointed for the girls’ sake.
A few hours later, Miriam, the girls and I headed to the small town’s only store. Bells chimed when we entered the mercantile, but the elderly clerk didn’t look up from her crossword puzzle. “Get whatever you want,” Miriam said cheerfully. I needed to catch some of her Christmas spirit, because I was already missing her 8 foot, beautifully decorated tree.
Miriam reached for the last package of construction paper, leaving a dust outline on the shelf where the faded paper had apparently sat for ages. We purchased our measly assortment of craft supplies and headed home to deck the halls.
Making paper ring chains and popcorn strings quickly lost it’s appeal for the girls. After several finger pricks and fifteen minutes we only had three feet of garland and an aluminum foil star to show for our efforts.
After dinner, the six of us headed outside to search for the perfect Christmas tree. Miriam and I watched the girls run from tree to tree with their grandfather and father following closely behind. I heard Kristi squeal in delight. “I found it!”
I stopped short when I approached Kristi’s tree. It was the ugliest, lopsided tree in the forest. “That tree’s crooked. What about this tree?” I pointed to a perfectly proportioned tree.
Kristi only glanced at my choice, then hugged the defective one tightly. “No. This is the tree I want. Right, Karen?”
Her younger sister submissively nodded her head in agreement. “We like this one.”
I raised my eye brows to my husband, silently pleading for help. He shrugged his shoulders, then lowered his ax. “They picked this one.”
“Fine,” I sighed.
After the girls were in bed that night, I found my husband and father-in-law outside making a stand for the pathetic tree. I ran a finger along my husband’s neck. “Dear?”
“Hmm?” he said, looking up from his work.
“This tree is so sad-looking. Let’s replace it.”
Three sets of eyes stared at me in shock. “The girls picked this tree,” Miriam said defensively.
“The girls will never notice. A tree is a tree.” I responded tartly.
My father-in-law stared at the evergreen thoughtfully. “It is crooked.”
“That’s the spirit. Let’s go.”
The next morning I was excited for the girls to see the beautiful pine. We’d stayed up until 2 a.m. decorating the new, improved tree, and I was pleased with the final product.
The adults where waiting with cameras positioned when Karen and Kristi bounced out of the bedroom on Christmas morning. When they saw the tree, they stopped and stared in what I assumed was delightful awe.
My heart sunk at Kristi’s words. ‘“That’s not my tree!” I felt the “told you so” glare from my husband as Kristi ran from the room.
I found her face down on the bed. “Kristi,” I said as I stroked her dark hair. “I’m sorry it’s not your tree.”
“I loved that tree,” she said between sobs.
“Why was it so special?”
“It reminded me that God loves us even though we aren’t perfect.”
I felt as if I’d been punched in the stomach. “That’s good news, because I could really use some of that love right now. Forgive me?”
Kristi sat up and wiped her eyes. “Yes, ma’am.” She wrapped her arms around me. “Can we have an old-fashioned Christmas every year?”
I was surprised by the realization that I, too, had enjoyed the slower paced, less commercial Christmas. “You bet!” I said, returning Kristi’s hug. “And next year I promise I won’t switch the tree.”
(This is a true story.)
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