Peace Among the Bumps

Today was the day for Aaron’s scheduled MRI, a test being done because of a change in his seizures and the additional worry of an annoying Parkinson’s-like tremor in his right hand.  Aaron, thankfully, has never minded medical tests or doctor visits of any kind, so today he woke up happy and ready to go to his appointment.  Of course, we all know that these appointments are just a side trip to Aaron.  The real purpose that he is going, in his mind, is our restaurant of choice for lunch, and the trip to Wal-Mart or some other fun store that also awaits.  Therefore, on this day, his brain MRI was a bump in the road on his way to his true destination.

He came in my bathroom to check on my hair and make-up progress.  He had showered, dressed, and enjoyed his coffee.  He knew that we would leave around 10:00, so he was trying to busy himself with a movie or a game in his room……until he remembered that Mom sometimes needs hurrying, no matter how many times she says that she does NOT need another hurry-up reminder.

As he stood there watching my progress…..or lack thereof, in his opinion……I told him that if it worked out, we would get his hair cut on the way to his MRI.  IF it worked out, I repeated…..and then I progressed through the usual disclaimer list.  IF I could get ready in time (which he seriously doubted)…..IF Aaron was ready (and he let me know that he was!)…….IF Great Clips wasn’t crowded. 

“I know, I know,” he exclaimed as he left the bathroom.  But in no time at all he was back again….standing there staring at me as I fixed my face, as if his staring could or would hurry me forward. 

Finally, as he turned to walk away, he said, “Tell me when you’re ready…..are you about ready?”  He barely took a breath between the statement and the question.  I laughed and told him, “NO!  I am NOT about ready!”…..and he knew it was time to leave Mom to her face, all by herself.

Finally, I WAS ready and so out the door we went.  I had checked Aaron in online and when we got there, he was taken right away to a booth.  Most of the girls there know Aaron by now.  He’s pretty unforgettable after one exposure, trust me.  As he sat down, he immediately launched into what movie he was currently watching.  Godzilla!!  Loud talk ensued about giant lizards and triceratops and saving the world and wanting to know if she had watched the new Godzilla yet.

 
She asked Aaron if he was ready for Christmas and he loudly replied, “MOM?  Are we?”  And I said we were close.  Then he told her that his brother and sister were coming over for Christmas.  She asked if they live far away, and he said that his sister lives in Texas and…..”MOM?  Where does Andrew live?”  So I answered, and was aware that everyone in Great Clips was learning a lot about us.  She asked him if his hair looked the way he wanted it.  “MOM?  Does it?”  Oh dear.

And then came her innocent question.  “So Aaron, what are you doing when you leave here?”

And very matter-of-factly he answered her.  “I’m going to the hospital to get an MRI.”

The words seemed to hang thick in the air.  He wasn’t talking Godzilla, or eating out, or shopping, or Christmas at that point.  I wondered if she was sorry she had asked him this question, but how could she have known?  And good old Aaron wasn’t the least bit fazed by his answer.  He told her he was getting an MRI as casually as he had told her that he was watching Godzilla. 

So I tried to not let my thoughts faze me, either.  My thoughts were how normal Aaron made it sound that he was going to the hospital for an MRI…..how casual he seemed about it…..because he really is casual about it.  He’s not worried or alarmed at all.  He’s not sad or embarrassed.  And I know I must not be either…..for his sake as well as my own.

Yes, I sat there wishing that Aaron could have answered her question on this day with nothing more than something normal and fun to be doing after his hair cut.  I’m going to a movie……or I’m going Christmas shopping……or I’m going out with my friends.  Yes, I was going to make sure that Aaron had some fun to look forward to today.  But first….the MRI.

The hair dresser told Aaron she hoped it went well, and as we checked out I made a comment about how the doctor was looking to see if Aaron had a brain.  Aaron laughed and everyone laughed, and we walked out the door with Aaron off on his next subject.

But on the drive to the hospital, my thoughts were back there at Great Clips and my heart was a little heavy.  Then there it was……playing on our Christmas CD…..Amy Grant singing “Silent Night.”  The song that somehow always reminds me of my dad and that always tugs at my heart was not the song I was sure I wanted to hear right then.  I blinked back tears.

            Silent Night, Holy Night

            All is calm, all is bright…..

Sometimes all is not calm.  Sometimes all is not bright. 

            Round yon virgin, mother and child.

            Holy infant so tender and mild……

But I knew then, as I have been greatly reminded over the past few days, that the coming of this holy infant Jesus makes everything in my heart calm and bright.  His coming makes everything right.  Not easy, but right and well.  Calm and bright, because of the hope that He gives.

            Sleep in heavenly peace,

            Sleep in heavenly peace.

Peace that only Jesus can give, because He did come on that silent and holy night long ago. 

 
And there on busy Kellogg Drive with traffic on both sides and Aaron chattering away happily beside me, I was seriously filled with peace.  We still had the MRI ahead; Aaron still has his special issues; life may still seem unfair to some.  But there is peace, more than I have sensed in a long time. 

I see, more than I believe I ever have, what the coming of Jesus means to me personally and to this world.  Peace in the midst of fear…..in the midst of pain…..in the midst of frustration.  Peace that’s unexplainable except as I look at that little infant Jesus. 

“Come on, Aaron!” I said as we got out of the car in the hospital parking lot.  Let’s get this bump-in-the-road over with and go have some real fun!   

The First Snow

 

The first thing I did when I got up this morning was to look out the window to see if we had gotten any of the possible snow that has been talked about over the past few days.  If you look hard, like between the cracks of our brick walkway out back, or on our roof, you can see a little faint dusting of snow.  It’s just a tiny bit, but it would have been enough at one time to keep up our old family tradition.

 

My mind goes back on this cold morning to other cold mornings of my childhood.  I remember how Mom would always be up very early, faithfully fixing breakfast for Dad before he left for his job at the railroad station nearby.  Then she would do the same for us, getting five breakfasts ready for us kids before we left for school……and somehow getting herself ready to head out the door for her own job.

 

But in the fall or early winter, there was often one magical morning that we would wake up to the sound of Christmas music.   Christmas music didn’t start playing at our house full time until after Thanksgiving.  One holiday at a time, please, in the King household.  However, there was one moment that Christmas music was played before the allowed time…….one day that it was perfectly fine to hear the early strains of We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

 

That time was on the occasion of the very first snowfall.  It didn’t matter if the first snowflakes fell in October.  If there was a bit of snow falling from the sky, Mom would put on a Christmas record……and if it was in the morning, we would wake up to the sounds of Christmas in the house.  And we knew…..we knew without even getting out of bed……that there was snow on the ground.  Of course, we would rush to the windows to see if there was enough to allow us to stay home from school, but there rarely was.

 

Mom and Dad loved snow.  Even when we all moved away from home, there was that one special day that our phone would ring and when we answered we would only hear a Christmas song being played.  None of us would have to guess or wonder what that was about.  We knew!  It was Mom and Dad announcing with delight that they had gotten the first snowfall of the season.  We all had a little contest going, hoping that we would beat them to the punch and be the one to call first with that Christmas music playing loudly, holding the phone up to the speakers so that they could clearly hear it.   Then we would put the phone to our ear and hear them say, “You got snow?!”  Yes, we got snow and it’s so beautiful, and on and on we would go…..laughing as if this was the greatest day ever.  And it was, in a sense, for Mom and Dad passed their love of snow on to all five of us children……and it was simple and sweet and so much fun to share that first snowfall of the season tradition over the years.

 

But it makes me a little sad this morning to know that I can’t call Mom to share my first little snowfall with her.  Well, I could call her…..but she would wonder who I am…..and why am I playing that music to her……and just what is that song, anyway?  Mom has Alzheimer’s and she doesn’t remember our old family tradition.  She doesn’t even remember our family.  So a phone call like that would only frustrate and confuse her, and would be upsetting to me as well.

 

I’m thankful for the sweet memories, though.  For the special traditions that our family had, as all families do.  I’m thankful that during the time Dad was dying of cancer, God allowed him to enjoy lots of snow during that November.  I remember him sitting in his wheel chair at their sliding glass doors, watching the snow and enjoying the hungry birds crowding their bird feeders on the deck.  Thankful that he got to see the beautiful Christmas tree all decorated the way he loved and listen to the pretty Christmas music.

 

It makes me realize how much we need to cherish our families and our times together, for it all goes by so quickly.  We live together for such a very short time before everyone scatters.  Brothers, sisters, children…..living here and there in this busy world.  So build the bonds of family strong while the children are young……develop the traditions…..and stay in touch over the years.

 

Merry Christmas, everyone!  It’s a little early, but there IS some snow on the ground.  If you look real hard, you can see it.  But it’s enough.

I’ll Ask Mom

This past Saturday, I decided to make some Christmas cookies.  I knew right away the ones that I wanted to make as I pulled out my recipes.  There it was……Mary’s Sugar Cookies……….a family favorite for many, many years.  I was trying to remember where the recipe had come from.  I knew that Mom had gotten it from a friend when we kids were little.  I still use the original recipe that I copied from her file before Gary and I got married.  But there is no record about where Mom got the recipe.  Was it from Rose Stepp, who used to give Mom and us four girls perms at her house?  Or was it from Mary Underwood, another good family friend of Mom’s when we were growing up? 

As I was getting everything ready to make the cookies, a thought crossed my mind.  A very natural thought…….one that I have thought hundreds and hundreds of times over the years.  “I’ll just ask Mom where she got the recipe,” I thought.  But just as quickly as that thought occurred, I had a second thought……..a very sad realization.  I can’t ask Mom where the recipe came from because she won’t remember.  And if she did give me a name I would honestly not know if she was correct. 

It seems like a small thing – the fact that she most likely wouldn’t even remember Mary’s Sugar Cookies, much less where they came from.  But this inability to solve my cookie question is only the tip of the iceberg for Mom.  Her Alzheimer’s has taken such a toll on her memory now that it’s really shocking to talk to John and Jan about how she’s doing.  It’s also very telling to talk to Mom on the phone, and to realize that she doesn’t know who I am…….and even when I say that I’m Patty as we first start talking, I know right away that she probably doesn’t even know that Patty is her daughter.

It’s been totally surprising, too, to hear about how she doesn’t know John.  He and I talked yesterday, and the things he told me were so sad.  We thought that she would remember John for a lot longer.  He’s her only son, and he’s also her pastor.  But she is always surprised that the man in the pulpit is her son, and she talks about how she had no idea that John the pastor is John her son. 

Perhaps most stunning of all, though, is that she doesn’t seem to recognize Dad as she looks at pictures of him.  Mom will point to pictures of her and Dad, and then refer to him as her father.  She did recently, with John, point to her wedding picture and refer to Dad as her husband……but not as Jack.  She rarely if ever talks about him anymore.  We just shake our heads in disbelief.  I’ve never known another couple as devoted to each other as Mom and Dad were.  They were inseparable during their retirement years.  But now this awful Alzheimer’s has taken him out of her mind, it seems.

Maybe, though, in some ways that lack of memory is a blessing for Mom.  Tomorrow marks five years since Dad went to heaven.  I was with them the month before he died.  I saw Mom’s total commitment to him as he declined.  There was nothing she wouldn’t do to make his days more tolerable.  At night he would lie in his hospital bed and she would be lying in their bed beside him with her hand through the rails, holding his feeble hand as they fell asleep.  She cleaned him and nursed him as best she could and made sure he was warm and comfortable and happy.  She was getting very confused at that point, and Dad knew it.  He was so worried about her, but we assured him that she would be fine.  I think he needed to know that before he was ready to leave.

Nearly every night during that month, Mom and I would ask Dad what he wanted to eat for supper.  She and I cooked a main meal for lunch, so supper was lighter.  And nearly every night he would think for a few seconds, then smile his incredible sweet smile, and softly and slowly tell us that he wanted scrambled eggs.  But he wanted Mom’s scrambled eggs, made by her hands.  I have the plastic cooking fork that she used for those eggs.  The thoughts of those nights, watching Dad slowly and contentedly eat Mom’s scrambled eggs, washed over me the other day when I scrambled some eggs…….and knew they were not nearly as good as Mom’s.  Or as Mom’s used to be, for I doubt that now she could scramble an egg at all. 

 
It’s truly a blessing that Dad isn’t here to see her like this.  We kids don’t know if he could have survived the sadness.  He was so dependent on her, and so we see God’s mercy in taking him on first.    Just like we can also see God’s mercy in the fact that Mom isn’t grieving his death or missing him daily like she used to do. 

 
But we’ll remember him for her, especially tomorrow.  And we’ll remember their love for each other, for each of us kids, and for the Lord.  We have so much for which to be thankful that even through some tears we can smile and even laugh at the memories.  Christmas was their favorite time of year, so now in some ways it’s bittersweet.  Yet Dad is so very happy in heaven, and Mom will one day join him there.

We have hope through it all.  Hope!  That’s a wonderful word that carries wonderful promise.  Dad’s death wasn’t the end and Mom’s Alzheimer’s is not the end.  We have eternity to anticipate, where nothing will ever be forgotten again. 

I can find out where that cookie recipe came from, too.

The Personal Gift of Aaron

We were talking at supper last night, as we watched Aaron stuff pizza in his mouth, about how quickly Christmas zoomed by this year.  It’s like a big meal that takes hours of planning and prep, and then is over in a few minutes.  We had a great time having Sandra, Gary’s sister, here for her fifth year in a row.  We love having her come…………we’re surprised that she keeps coming!  Not really, but we laugh at all the mayhem that sometimes ensues at Christmas with the shopping and the cooking and the wrapping and the everything else.  Plus this year we had Darcy,  Andrea’s little dog, thrown in the mix along with our Great Dane, Jackson.  And Aaron…….always our Aaron……with his many facets that either delight or depress or demand.
 
Aaron was still trying to figure out Christmas carols as our holiday preparations were gearing up and I had Christmas music playing all day long.  Literal Aaron thinks that some of the words to our carols are quite ridiculous.  We were playing Skip-Bo one night and I had Pandora cranked up to a favorite Christmas station when he heard The Christmas Song.  When the phrase “……to kids from 1 to 92….” was sung, I heard Aaron go, “Hmpfff!!”  And I prepared myself for either laughter or rolling of my eyes as I awaited his comment.

“People at 92 years old aren’t kids, right?!”  I began to explain what that phrase meant when he continued with his commentary on this ridiculous song – “I think they’re warning people who are at the age of 92.”   ” Warning of what?” I asked.  But he really couldn’t explain what he thought and he certainly wasn’t getting my reasonable explanation, so finally he just admitted that he really didn’t get it, even as he repeated what he so often says about our weird world………..”That’s DUMB!”

He enjoyed “Ding Dong Merrily on High” more, though, because at least he thought it was rather funny.  “That ding dong song sounds like an alarm clock!”  he blurted as he laughed at yet another silly Christmas song.  I laughed, too, as I looked once again at our mixed-up world through Aaron’s eyes.

Aaron’s Aunt Sandra makes beautiful scarves.  She brought some for Andrea and I to have.  Aaron saw them on my desk the next morning and walked down the hall, carrying the pile of scarves.  “Mom!  Did you build these for me?” he hopefully asked.  I assured him that I did not build them, but that Aunt Sandra had made them for me.  He was disappointed………such interesting, curly scarves would have been fun for him to own, he thought.  “Are they like the Hawaiian women wear and then they dance?”  he asked with even more hope.  And again I assured him that they were not Hawaiian scarves and that I definitely would not be dancing a Hawaiian dance when I put on a curly scarf.  He laughed at this funny thought.

Aaron did very well with going to his day group when Sandra first arrived.  He often wants to stay home because she is here, but this year he was more controlled and willing to go.  Having pizza one day with his friends at Paradigm was a great pay-off.  He excitedly told me about it when he barged in the door that afternoon.  “Mom!  We had pizza!!  First I had one piece and then I had four!  They wouldn’t let me have a fifth.”  I reminded him that no person, especially him, needs five pieces of pizza.  And he is further convinced that our world is indeed without any understanding.

The next day we had a little snow and I knew that Aaron would not like this.  He doesn’t want to get out in the snow, often acting like an old man who can’t bear the thought of the cold and the mess.  Sure enough, I heard him knock on my bedroom door as I got ready and then heard his low, depressed, monotone voice as he said, “I do not want to leave this warm house.”  He was very flat………very resigned……..very certain about this fact.  I dressed and then went out in the hall, where I found his door closed.  I opened his door and found Aaron in his bed, all covered in his warm blankets……….but smiling as I patted his shoulder.  His smile showed me that he was finding this all to be funny and I was relieved that we were not going to have a small war over this issue of the messy, cold snow. 

He did go to Paradigm that day, happily, and later in the week he ended the season there with a Christmas party.  He came home very animated as he held up his Wal-Mart gift card and his stocking with his name on it………..and which he decided that he wanted to give to visiting Darcy, who didn’t have her own doggie stocking.  He liked the food, too, especially noting some fascinating cookies – “Mom, we had cookies that had whiteness on them!”

Christmas Eve was, well, interesting.  Aaron was very happy about the bustle and activity of the day.  He came down from his room from time to time to talk, of course, or to play with Darcy or Jackson.  He was very intrigued by Darcy’s dog toy.  “Mom!  Darcy’s dog toy has warts!”  And he was also fascinated by the Polish sausage that I was putting in my spaghetti sauce.  “Mom, are you putting that bent hot dog in the spaghetti?!”


Andrea was not home during the day, as she was visiting her friend James and his family on their farm near Salina.  Aaron asked where she was and he did not like the fact that Andrea was not at home……….and he definitely did not like it when I told him that James would be joining us for supper and for the evening of games and fun.  It was hard to tell why he reacted so strongly, but I believe he feels an ownership of Andrea.  He sees her as a mother figure who is there for him when she is home.  James was an intruder who took Andrea away from him……..a stranger who was going to make life uncomfortable for Aaron during our special evening.

Sure enough, Aaron was less than enthusiastic to meet James.  During dinner, as we talked and laughed, Aaron kept muttering comments to me about this situation.  Thankfully, Aaron didn’t have a full blow-up about James, but he was certainly not happy with this turn of events.  It would be so helpful if Aaron could just express his feelings verbally…….but he usually can’t do that, at least not right away.  So we tensely muddled through the moment, hoping that Aaron was not too terribly embarrassing to us or to our guest.  And what a blessing that Andrea is very understanding of Aaron, and was able to smile and put us all at ease.   

Later we played Christmas Bingo, and once again Aaron was very unpleasant.  He doesn’t like parties, as he sees the laughter and the silliness that may ensue as being abnormal.  Yet he wanted to join us, even as he sat there making comments about how Gary called out the Bingo moves and being very rude when we tried to calm or correct him.  We were honestly relieved when Aaron went back up to his room and we could continue the evening without worrying about Aaron telling us all very ungraciously about how weird we were and that we needed to shut up!

Christmas day found Aaron a little unnerved because we decided to open gifts in the living room instead of the family room.  Change!!  And change does not go over well with Aaron!  The family picture in front of the Christmas tree was an exercise in futility for us, as Aaron did not want his picture made when it was just time to get on with the gift opening.  And opening gifts, for Aaron, involves a process.  He must have his little Swiss Army knife for cutting the paper; and he must open each DVD or PC game right away with his knife;  and he must put the DVD wrappings and tape in his trash can from his room that he has sitting right beside him.  He shows very little emotion as he continues his mission of opening his presents from beginning to end……….and then it is over and he must move on to the next day’s event.

The day after Christmas, Aaron was up and about as usual.  He drank his coffee and he took his pills and he talked a lot as always.  He was upstairs talking to Andrea, as normal as ever, and then walked down the stairs………..and we heard an awful crash.  Aaron was having a seizure.  He had fallen backwards at the foot of the stairs and was laying there on the hard floor, seizing.  It was terrible and was very frightening to all of us.  Aaron’s seizures have been in his sleep for years now, so this breakthrough seizure was very surprising.  He finally stopped and Gary placed a pillow under his head as I covered him with a blanket.  Aaron is too big for us to move, so he slept there for awhile as he recovered from this episode.  We checked him for blood and we worried about a concussion, but later when he was able to be helped to his bed we felt that he was all right. 

He has an ugly bruise and some scrapes on his upper back from hitting a piece of furniture when he fell.   We are very thankful that there was no major injury to him from such a hard fall.  I’ll be taking him to the lab for some blood work to check his levels.  Keith, Aaron’s nurse practitioner, told us not to be alarmed at this seizure and not to assume that these will continue.  We hope this is true.  This episode has made us face an element of fear that we haven’t had for a long time.  It makes us realize how serious seizures are and it jerks us back to the reality of how fragile Aaron’s health is.  How fragile, and how very dangerous and serious.
   
And our love for Aaron was confirmed as we struggled emotionally, watching him lay on that cold, hard floor both during and after his seizure.  He yanks us around a lot…….one minute we are laughing because of Aaron and the next minute we are so frustrated with his behavior.  The frustrations melt away when we see him so vulnerable. We know that life for Aaron will never be normal or easy.  Life for Gary and I will never be normal or easy.  But it’s the life that God has chosen for all of us……….for Aaron, for Gary, for me, and for Andrea and Andrew.  I pray that we will trust God as we travel this road, and that we will bring glory to God as He enables us to move forward.
 
Christmas is a season of light and of hope.  Aaron points us to that light and hope in ways of which he is totally unaware.  Whether through our joyful laughter or through our gritted teeth, Aaron does have his ways of pulling us back to Him on which our dependence lays.  And I believe that Aaron will receive a great reward for fulfilling that purpose of his life. 

 Christmas is also a season of gifts………..and Aaron is our gift, one which we continue to unwrap and try to understand every day.  He comes with a no-return policy and on some days, that’s a very good thing!  On Christmas Eve, I told Aaron not to come in the bedroom where I was stuffing the stockings.  He replied, “So you said you were doing my personal present?”  He was sweet and hopeful. 

God has given us a personal present in the gift of Aaron.  Even on the hard days, we are especially blessed. 

We love you, Aaron!

Please Say Mistletoe is Fake!

It’s the Christmas season………..the time of lights and joy and warmth and presents……..and Aaron trying to figure out Christmas carols.  In Aaron’s  literal world and in his world of showing minimal emotion, Christmas songs seen through his eyes can be very interesting.

Comments from Aaron can range from the style of singing:  “Hmmpf!  Why is she singing like opera?” ……..to all the unfettered emotion of a particular song:  “Hmmpf!  Why did he say that?  That was dumb!” 

For instance, there is the strange subject of mistletoe.  We heard a Christmas song one day in the van and the benefits of standing under the mistletoe were being gleefully proclaimed.  Aaron does not share this glee.  To Aaron, mistletoe is weird and kissing is positively unthinkable.  As the song progressed, Aaron blurted, “Oh brother!!  They’re talking about love again!!”

I chuckled and just remained quiet.  Aaron did not.  “Is that thing about mistletoe true?”   So I tried to explain mistletoe to Aaron, briefly. 

He responded, “I thought it was a religion or a myth or fake!”

I am sure that he hoped beyond all hope that it was fake.  I offered to hang us some mistletoe at our house but he was not at all in favor of that idea. 

Of course, he’s on the Christmas countdown.  He will be talking to me and then as he walks away he will blandly update me by saying, “It’s 19 days til Christmas.”  Yesterday as we listened to the 12 Days of Christmas song,  he had some commentary on how silly that song is.  He continued his conversation with Gary at supper.
“Dad, there was that song about the first day of Christmas.  Then they made it to the end of it at 12! “

Gary assured him that he knew that song as Aaron continued, “So what’s the point of it?  Is it so we can count?”  And before Gary could really begin to straighten this out, Aaron said, “And who would know how to wear five rings?  No one needs five rings!!!” 

I had earlier tried to tell him that it was based on other cultures who celebrate Christmas for 12 days.  Not remembering which culture does that, as I racked my brain for this piece of trivia, I said that it might be Russian culture……..to which Aaron replied, “Russian TORTURE?!” 

Torture might actually be an apt description for how some of these familiar songs affect Aaron.  We just sing along happily while Aaron is over there dissecting each song and trying to figure out the meaning to these crazy phrases………….and vowing to avoid mistletoe! 

Relax, Aaron!  And Merry Christmas!
 
I’ll get back to you on that thing about the partridge in a pear tree. 

My Favorite Christmas Tree

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.