Our first child, Stephanie, was twenty days old, as her daddy and I wrapped her in a warm blanket and placed her under the tall, decorated tree whose branches reached the ceiling of her grandmother’s living room. That year, our celebration of the wondrous gift of God’s Son to the world was the placing of our precious baby daughter in His Love and Care. Two years and eight months later, we repeated the scene in our own home, as we laid our four-month-old twins, Rebecca and Margaret, under our Christmas tree.
From the beginning, we wanted our girls to know that not only were they gifts to us from God, they were also our gifts to Him. We reminded them often of what treasured gifts they were – especially during the Christmas season each year as we decorated our tree.
The girls learned very early that giving to others was the best part of Christmas. From the time their small hands filled 23 baby food jars with red and green gumdrops, attached “Merry Christmas! God Loves You!” notes with red and green ribbons, and delivered them to all of the shut-ins in our church, they looked forward to a new “giving project” every year throughout their school years.
The year that Margaret and Rebecca were first graders and Stephanie was a third-grader, decorating the Christmas tree became for them “decorating the giving tree”. Their Uncle Bobby, who had separated from his wife and children three years before, was without a job or job prospects. In the fall of that year, he packed up all of his belongings and took off across country in his reconditioned Volkswagen Van. Several weeks later, when he called to let us know that he was living in his van in an Arizona campground, the girls were devastated.
Two weekends later, following the huge Thanksgiving Gathering at our house, our little family of five set out to find and chop down our Christmas tree. The exuberant excitement and enthusiasm expressed by our girls in past years was subdued, when their daddy carried the tree into the house and placed it in its stand. As the three little girls clasped their hands behind their backs and stood staring down at the box of homemade ornaments and decorations, total silence wrapped itself around the whole room.
“Wanting-to-know” stood in Margaret’s deep chocolate eyes, as she interrupted the deafening silence with “Does Uncle Bobby have a Christmas tree?”
“Uncle Bobby doesn’t have room for a tree, Honey.”
As quickly as the words left my mouth, Stephanie added, “Our tree was always Uncle Bobby’s tree too.”
Just as quickly, practical Rebecca pleaded, “Can’t we make him a LITTLE tree?”
“Please, Mommy, please!” they begged in unison.
Surrounding the three little girls with a group hug, I answered, “OK! OK! We’ll make a tree for Uncle Bobby! But first, we have a tree of our own to decorate.”
For three days, the girls diligently created decorations for Uncle Bobby’s wintergreen, poster board Christmas tree. Cutting bright red, blue, yellow, and white paper balls, stars, and bells from construction paper, they covered them with gold and silver glitter and glued them all over the tree. They spent hours stringing popcorn and cranberries for three small garlands, which they pushed through punched-out holes in the tree’s outer edges and draped across the tree. On top of the tree, they placed a star surrounded by three little angels whose faces were photographs of the three girls. Underneath the angels, they placed one last tender touch - a white, glittered ball bearing the note: “Merry Christmas to Uncle Bobby with love.”
Bubble-wrapped with all its ornaments and placed in a large flat box for shipping, the tree crossed many miles via UPS to Uncle Bobby. It was Christmas Eve night, as the girls, their daddy, and I read from Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth, that Uncle Bobby’s phone call, thanking the girls for the gift of the tree, finally came. Delight spread joy all over them, when he told them, “This is the best Christmas tree I’ve ever had!”
That night, as the girls and Stephen nestled and slept in their beds, I completed the prep-work for Christmas Dinner. In the silent moments that followed, I lingered for a moment in the soft tree lights and whispered to God, “Thank you, Lord, for placing in our care three little girls who are true examples of Your words: ‘It is more blessed to give than receive.’ “
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