Last year, just after Christmas we moved into a new home. As we hurriedly packed away what sparse Christmas decorating we’d done (since our moving date was Dec. 27), I thought to myself that next year would be the year that I changed up the tree. Our children have been out and on their own for a few years, and it was high time that I “redecorated” our annual tree in some new color scheme or theme. The choices were endless… I could use my favorite colors… the farmhouse white stuff currently featured at stores everywhere… buffalo plaid… burlap… I could get delicate glass ornaments now that we have no small kids or pets to destroy them. I could fancy it up a bit, if I wanted. 2020 would be THE YEAR.
But 2020 sort of got away from me. My dad died in January and my mom’s health has been declining. My own auto-immune disease remains persistent, carrying a constant undercurrent of inflammation-related joint pain. COVID19 descended with a vengeance, infecting people and destroying plans for the foreseeable future. Places of business closed down, opened up, and then closed down again.
Conversations became mostly on screens, unmasked smiles relatively rare, and anxiety-inducing isolation the norm instead of the exception for many. There were zero opportunities for extended family and friends to safely gather. Celebrations became “drive-by”, weddings and even funerals were canceled or moved to online venues. Visits to hospitals or even senior apartments were forbidden.
This autumn held no firepit gatherings. Trick-or-treat jokes were muffled behind masks, candy delivered via 6’ distance through a decorated length of PVC pipe and received by grateful kids whose smiles we could not see. Just a weird year.
So, when I unearthed my Christmas décor from a pile of moving boxes, I just didn’t have the energy to start over from scratch. I didn’t have a clue as to what a new theme or scheme would be. I was tired, and a little sad. 2020 certainly was THE YEAR – but not how I had imagined. Maybe next year…
My husband and I assembled the tree and I began to decorate. And I felt the shift in my heart with each ornament, and I began to remember.
This year, with all of its weirdness, difficulties and uncertainties, all the patience and endurance required, all of the losses and letting go, had more to show me. More than just hardship.
I had so much for which to be grateful, too.
Just look. Here was the first ornament I’d ever given to my love, my husband of 40 years, in 1979 – before we were married, but after I’d already surrendered my heart. There was a “baby’s first Christmas” ornament – secretly bought a year after his birth, since said baby had surprised us with his arrival on Christmas Day, leaving no time to shop for the obligatory “1st” ornament. My oldest’s thumb-print mouse in a frame was hung next to a rodeo ornament (#3 son was a 3-year-old cowboy every day for a year!). Another son’s pre-school moon face grins from a “snow” filled glass globe.
Here was the ornament from the year we moved away from home for the first time, and here was the one from when we joyfully returned, 11 years + two kids later. Here was a stained glass nativity. There’s a glass water droplet to remind us of a favorite charity… a Mickey Mouse from a family vacation to the theme park, and a 50-something year old elf (a leftover from my own childhood) who sits cross-legged, nestled into the artificial pine needles. Angels perch on at least 4-5 branches. There’s a home-made cinnamon clay cat, painted to look like a family pet. Two cardinals are clipped to branches, facing each other, another reminder of our hometown roots (we are the St. Louis Cardinals!).
Some of them are raggedy. I put those around the back of the tree, but I take time to feel the feelings that go with them. I’m reminded to “Give Presence” as a part of a bigger conspiracy to change the way we do Christmas. I’m reminded to be grateful for each of the friends whose ornament-gifts bedazzle my branches. I am moved to tears by the enormity of blessing represented in those friendships. The newest, a starfish, reminds me of God’s invitation to make a difference in the life of one person at a time. I want to do that.
See, I needed those reminders – especially this year – of all the goodness, of the preciousness of life and of what I’ve been given. I am blessed – not because life is perfect. Life is not perfect. But I am blessed in the middle of it all. 2020 has been a weird year, but there has also been good.
I lost my dad. Yes. But I HAD my dad. What a gift! I have an illness, but I also have health – I can move about and do most of the things I want to. I have sorely missed “in-person” gatherings, but I HAVE technology which allows me to connect in other ways. COVID continues to rage, but there’s an immunization on the horizon and COVID doesn’t get the last word. I never saw one murder hornet! The elections are over and done, and God is still in charge. I have missed loved ones this Thanksgiving. But I HAVE loved ones who missed me, too, and we will gather again.
I don’t need a new tree. I don’t need a new color scheme or theme. I don’t need delicate or fancy. I’m not sure now if I’ll ever change it up. It’s better than the best scrapbook for me. I hadn’t realized how much evidence hung from those branches – evidence of the goodness I’ve experienced over the years, of the sweetest things in my life, of what I’ve been given and to what I am called.
My tree has a theme. The theme is life. And life is good, even now. And I am thankful.