Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Image result for christmas ballsBonnie and I decided against a Christmas tree. Our income, cut in half, didn’t really lend itself to spending forty dollars on a tree that would be up for two weeks then out with the trash. The pile of medical bills that continued to grow on the dining room table was an additional reminder of the need to use our funds wisely. Plus, we reasoned, we weren’t sure the two of us—with the help of an adolescent boy—could wrestle a six-foot evergreen onto the top of my ancient Celebrity. So, no tree.

Image result for ceramic christmas treeIt was the right decision, my daughter and I told each other. With full-time jobs and college classes and hospital visits to make each day, we needed to conserve our energies. I liberated my grandmother’s ceramic light up tree—the one that had sat atop her television console for fifteen years—and set it up on an end table in the living room.
“Behold,” I said, “our Christmas tree.  Already decorated.”
“Perfect,” said Bonnie. Her cheer seemed strained. But we were all a little bit strained. Ron’s last lab results had not been promising. An infection, yet unnamed, still raged through his weakened body. It looked like another holiday would be celebrated in a hospital room. “It will be enough this year.”

Her little brother was not convinced. At twelve, Allen hovered somewhere in between giving up on the reality of Santa Claus and retaining faint hope that Christmas magic still existed. “Where will we put the presents?” he asked. “There’s no room under the tree.”

Image result for flexible flyer sled vintage with bow“I’ve got it!” shouted his sister. She ran out the backdoor and returned with the Flexible Flyer Sled we hauled out of the basement each winter. Plunking the sled down next to our ceramic tree, she declared it the perfect spot for presents.

"Not much room,” Allen said glumly. “Can’t put too many presents on that.”

Bonnie and I looked at each other sadly. The truth was that there would not be a lot of presents this year. She hugged her brother. “It’ll be fine,” she told him. “You’ll see.”

 Allen remained skeptical. “Just doesn’t feel like Christmas.”

Image result for christmas candles burningWe forced as much holiday cheer as we could into the house, stringing garland on the mantel and lights around the door. Each day when I came home from the hospital, I dropped my school bag and plunked a Christmas CD into the player. We ate our spaghetti or pizza suppers by candlelight, singing along to the carols.  At night, after Allen had checked all the door locks twice and made sure the spotlight in the backyard was turned on because “I’m the man of the house now and I have to make sure you girls are safe”, he went up to bed, and Bonnie and I planned out Christmas.

Image result for Christmas dinner We had a turkey the church had given us at Thanksgiving and which we hadn’t used because Thanksgiving had brought with it an emergency surgery on Ron’s pancreas. We had some canned goods in the pantry and enough money between the two of us to manage the rest of a Christmas supper, even if we needed to transport it to the hospital.

Image result for white porcelain crecheAnd while the presents were few, we had things for Allen and silly items to stuff into Christmas stockings. And we had our white porcelain crèche on the mantel, the one Ron had given me piece by piece each Christmas.

But despite the forced cheer, part of me agreed with Allen. It just didn’t feel like Christmas. Every morning when I left to teach my middle school classes, I noted the empty corner of the living room where the tree should stand, adorned with the plastic ornaments Dad brought home from Germany when he was in the Army and the glass bells that had hung on my grandmother’s tree. The front of the house looked bare without our plastic Nativity set; the complicated lighting had been beyond Bonnie and me.

The hospital I visited each day had its own forced cheer: trees in the lobby, golden garland hanging from the ceiling, red poinsettias clustered into pots in the cafeteria. Each patient’s door held a small red Christmas stocking. 

Image result for christmas tree in lobbyStill, it didn’t really feel like Christmas. The closer we got to December 25, the more excitement ranged in the halls of my middle school. And the more depressing was the news from the hospital. As Ron battled against the infection, his damaged pancreas refused to process food so once again he needed a tube to provide nutrients. No turkey for him. In the ten months since the car accident that had almost cost him his life, we had spent almost every holiday in a hospital room. What kind of Christmas would it be? I asked myself. No tree. Few presents.

Image result for christmas stocking on doorIt wasn’t about the tree, I knew. Or the presents. Since accepting Jesus as my Savior when I was fourteen, the meaning of Christmas was deeper and more spiritual. I sang “O Holy Night” on my way to school each morning, reminding myself that even if there were no presents on the Flexible Flyer Sled for me beneath our ceramic Christmas tree, it would still be a meaningful Christmas. Even if there was no special gift from my spouse of 25 years, no “just because” gift that wasn’t a need but a want, we would be grateful to be together and joyful that Ron was still alive.

And we would all be together. Dennis would be home on semester break and stay with us for two weeks before going back to the city. Bonnie would have no classes at community college and the daycare center where she worked would be closed.  And Allen and I would have two weeks off from middle school. We could spend more time visiting Ron, trying to make it feel like Christmas to him.

I tried to ignore the empty corner in the living room. I tried even harder to ignore the empty corner of my heart.

Image result for national lampoon's christmas vacationIt was four days before Christmas and Bonnie and Allen and I huddled under blankets in the living room to converse electricity, munching on popcorn and watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Dennis would be home tomorrow and there was a slim chance the doctors would allow Ron home for Christmas Day. It would, we told ourselves, feel more like Christmas.

There was a knock at the door. The kids and I looked at each other. We weren’t expecting anyone. The minister had already stopped by with a love offering taken up for us, money we would put towards the mortgage. Bonnie looked out the window. “Someone with a truck,” she said. I went to open the door.

And there on our steps stood two church members. Between them they held a beautiful and fragrant Douglas fir. Image result for douglas fir christmas tree
“Wow!” shouted Allen. “That’s some tree! Is it for us?” He scampered to help Rich bring it into the house.
I hugged Rose tightly. “How did you know?” I asked her.
She smiled. “Pastor Bill called us. We had asked what we could do to help you. He said you didn’t have a tree.”
Tears threatened to spill from my eyes. “Bonnie and I just couldn’t…we didn’t…thank you. Thank you!”
Rose beamed. “It is our pleasure.”
Allen ran for the boxes of ornaments we had stowed away for another year, and Rich set the tree up in the vacant corner with expert care. Bonnie set the tea kettle to boil and made hot chocolate. My heart was bursting with love and gratitude to God and His two servants.
Image result for red box white bowBut God had one more surprise for me. Rose reached into her bag and handed me a red box wrapped with a big white bow. “We saw Ron today,” she said. “And he asked me to buy you this. So, this present,” she said, “is from your husband.”
I hugged Rose tightly and let the tears flow. She patted my shoulder. “I know, honey,” she whispered, “and so does God.”
Rich plugged in the lights on our beautiful Christmas tree, given to us with love.
“Now,” declared Allen, “it feels like Christmas.”
Image result for christmas

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