I love that time when all the Christmas decorating is finally done. The boxes that now contain our everyday items are stacked safely back in the storage room; the floors have been vacuumed free of all the stray glitter and the small strands of green that have fallen from the garland and the tree; and the extension cords are full of the extra plug-ins that allow the Christmas village and the Christmas greenery to beautifully twinkle. There in the center of it all, commanding the most attention, is our Christmas tree. I enjoy sitting on the couch in the living room whenever I can, taking in the sight of our tree and basking in the warmth that it helps to create in my heart.
I had always wanted a large, full Christmas tree. Finally, several years ago, I found the tree……….THE tree that I had always wanted. It was on sale, so the price was right. Our other tree was literally falling apart after years of use, so the timing was right. I bought the tree and for these several years we have fully delighted in its beauty. Yet as I sit near this lovely tree, I am taken back in my memory to another tree………..another time.
The year was 1979. Gary and I had gotten married that year and were preparing to spend our first married Christmas together. I had graduated the year before from Piedmont Bible College. Gary was still a student there, finishing up his degree in Theology. We lived in a little house not far from campus, and like most students we scrimped in order to make ends meet. Our house was full of hand-me-downs from family……….bedding, curtains, furniture. We had some new items from wedding showers and gifts, but back then there were no gift registries and certainly very few young couples with houses full of the best and the finest. Gary had made us a simple stereo stand out of cement blocks that we had painted, and we would enjoy our records and our 8-tracks and cassettes in the living room as we sat on our second-hand furniture. Life was sweet and we were very blessed.
Gary worked several jobs in order to provide for us in the midst of attending classes. I worked full-time in the school library, and took a class or two on the side. I remember how we budgeted $25.00 a week for groceries………..how excited I was when Gary’s mother gave us lots of venison and taught me how to cook it……..and the pumpkins that she brought us and helped me to prepare and freeze. I remember going to see my parents and how touched my Mom was when she heard Gary say, as he looked at her roast, “Look! There’s beef and it’s not ground!” We all laughed, and of course Gary and I were given the leftover roast to take back to our little house in North Carolina. I remember the time that my cart of groceries was stolen in front of the grocery store as I went to get my car, and how devastated I was……….and how the manager of the store let me take my receipt and get the same groceries at no charge. God always provided!
On our first Christmas I knew that we could not afford a real tree………or any tree, for that matter. I didn’t make it a big deal, but in my heart I was a little sad. I took out a small oval wooden stool, and on it I placed the tiny artificial tree that my college roommate and I had shared during our dorm years. It really was comical to see our little Charlie Brown tree perched in our living room, hardly noticeable as it attempted to adorn our room. Any gifts that would be placed around it would soon dwarf this miniature tree. We laughed and we determined to treat this tree as special as if it was huge and ornately decorated. We were young and we were in love, relishing our first Christmas together as husband and wife.
Yet Gary knew my heart and he knew that a tree, a real tree…..and a taller tree…….would thrill his new wife. One day I came home from work and routinely began to hang up my coat and think about preparing some supper. I stepped into the living room in the dusk of evening and something caught my eye. I could not believe what I saw! There, perched in the corner, was a Christmas tree! A real, live, honest-to-goodness Christmas tree! I gasped and then ran to Gary, hugging him and thanking him as he smiled in delight.
I didn’t know how he did it, but I did know that this tree was going to be beautiful. I wish I had a picture of it now. I would probably smile if I saw it. I don’t remember how we decorated it, but I’m sure it was fairly sparse and simple. Yet to me this tree, in my heart, has always been our most special tree………..my favorite tree for sure. Not because it was huge and full……… not because it was gorgeously decked out with beautiful matching ornaments……….not because there were tons of gifts underneath. None of those things was true about this tree. This tree was special because it showed the heart of my husband and it demonstrated his love for me. Despite his class schedule and all of his demanding work hours, and regardless of our lack of money, Gary somehow managed to buy me the tree that he knew would make my eyes shine brighter than any lights or ornaments ever could.
I think of that simple tree every time we pull out our Christmas tree and get it all beautifully decorated. I think of the love that it symbolized and the sacrifice it embodied. I’m thankful for thirty-three years of marriage to this man who quietly goes about showing me, and showing our children, how much he loves us. We’ve gone through a lot of Christmas trees in those years, but none holds as dear a place in my heart as that first special tree.