This year has to have been one of the most challenging years of my life. I’ve often found myself lost in the darkness of uncertainty and unrelenting change. There have been successes but I can’t help feel that 349 days of failure has eclipsed my light. There has been a struggle between happiness and depression, anxiety and motivation. My foundation has been shaken, and I feel as if I have been raised to the ground. I questioned key aspects of who I am, my understanding of life, and my purpose.
But now I find myself in the depths of December, nearing the end of Fall and the beginnings of winter. And I feel a change.
As I child, my sister, brother and I would count down the days till tree picking day. We would march out into the freezing night with our parents to pick out a Christmas tree. Dad would drive our car to our favorite lot, across the way from an old diner and next to a small movie theater.
We’d tromp around in the snow, moving from tree to tree. I always loved brushing my hands against the prickling branches; smelling that refreshing pine scent. Often, while other members of my family huddled around one tree I’d slip off down a different isle. Burying myself in pines I’d search and search, until I’d find a tree to my liking.
I would often try to talk the others into getting it. Some years it would work, other times it wouldn’t. I always loved that feeling of being alone among the pine trees. Secretly having conversations with their silent, snow-clad forms.
When we finally got the tree home and in our living room, my brother and I would help move it into the green plastic tree stand. Pine needles would be everywhere. There was something so vibrant about having living evergreen in among the regular furniture.
After dad had finished cursing and growling his way through lighting the tree, we kids had the chance to dress it. We unwrapped many ornaments and strands of beads. (They were stinky beads and they stank something fierce.) Dressing the tree was not only a reminder of Christmas, but a lesson in family history.
Each ornament had specific stories and people attached to their strings. Some ornaments would make us laugh as past memories abounded of family and friends. Other ornaments brought tears and heartfelt silences.
My personal favorite was a pack of red velvet dinosaurs. There was a tyrannosaurus, triceratops, pterodactyl, hadrosaurus, stegosaurus, and apatosaurus. I usually ended up playing with them on and under our couches as everyone else decorated. I played with those dinosaurs so much their eyes fell off, and the velvet wore itself down to nothing.
With the dressing of the tree finished, we would turn out all the lights in the house. Then we’d all lay down underneath it and look up through the branches as my father turned on the lights. I’ll never forget reaching up and brushing my finger tips against the branches. Feeling their organic texture transported me from laying on the carpet of my living room. I’d linger over the lights, feeling their heat and energy. And to my left and right, feeling my family member’s shoulders press against mine. I felt home. I felt family. My heart burned with adoration. My mind filled with peace there in the glow of the tree, surrounded by darkness.
Coming back to 2016, we traded our small three foot tree for a huge 7 foot tree. As I restrung lights with my boys and finally got the tree in a position to decorate I felt a change. With my oldest leading the way we carefully transferred each ornament onto the new tree. Our living room was aglow with excitement and joy.
In the end I was left with our old tree, looking forlorn on the kitchen table. In a flash of inspiration I took the tree and ran it up to the toy room. Turning out all the lights and plugging the tree in I called for the boys to come up and see the surprise. My youngest kept shouting, “Tee! Tee!”
I felt a tugging at my being. As evening wore on I found myself alone with the tree, staring at the lights. It hit me then, the meaning of a Christmas tree. I stepped over to it and felt the paper needles and wire branches; basked in the warmth of it’s light.
This is what Christ does for us. In the darkness of our lives, when hope fades from our hearts and despair reigns supreme, Christ shines. Between the dark branches of life, His light can be seen. It’s not the blinding light of day that guides us down a set path. It is more of a comforting glow that points us in the right direction. A glow that offers reassurance, and speaks peace straight to the heart. Within the light of Christ one can reflect on the life they have been given, and see the good through the darkness.
As I stood there in the toy room, I felt Christmas.