Jim wrote about the beauty of our two very different trees. The real one seems to be hanging on for dear life, trying hard to not let its' droopy branches drop our precious ornaments. Under the tree, Jim put a darling working train set. He was saddened to find that the set he and Andrea always used was either stolen or lost in a move. All we found were a few train tracks left. So he scoured on Ebay and found the no-longer in production train set and it sits under our tree. I knew he and Anthony would appreicate the familiarty of it, even if it wasn't their original. We are trying to keep the girls hands off it. Sometimes I notice it is derailed and I wonder what mischief has gone on. Jim and Andrea had also started a village collection. Okay, they started it with a church and then never added another thing. I understand how it feels to have good intentions and then life just gets in the way. So I decided the kids would give Jim the whole village to complete it. Troy used to make fun of me and say, "Collection contains the word collect. Doesn't that mean it should happen over time?" I told him there was no timeframe on the definition! I admit to liking collections to happen quickly not over years. I know that probably doesn't really make them collections rather more of a purchase. But none-the-less we now have a whole little village (okay tiny metropolis). The kids set it up and we walked Jim into the room with his eyes closed. We added Andrea's original church and then shopped for a few more together. It is special and it is ours. We appreciate all of our past decorations. They are treasures that have special memories attached to them. We wouldn't want to lose them ever. But we also are really enjoying things that are ours now.
Jim is finding out I do LOVE Christmas lights. I love the twinkling and the sparkling and how they make everything so warm and pretty. I am always sad when the lights come down after the holidays because everything just seems a bit more dull. But that beauty comes at a price because those silly lights are always our nemesis aren't they? They are tangled, hard to get on, harder to take off and can work one second and go out the next. As we were struggling to put all the lights on our tall tree this year I remembered back two years prior to a gesture I will never forget. It was the night of November 26, 2006. Days earlier, Amy and I had driven from Phoenix and taken the kids to Sea World in San Diego for Thanksgiving. She was trying to help me pass the time and ease the sadness that Daddy was at war and wouldn't be home for the holidays. In fact, the last time I talked to Troy was in Oceanside, CA the day after Thanksgiving that year. We returned back to Phoenix that Saturday and Amy flew on back to Dallas not knowing she would be turning around in less than two days to come to come and hold her best friend, whom in an instant had just become a widow. Anyway, in between those two days between returning from CA and the knock on my door on Monday morning was Sunday. I go back and remember that day as the last normal day of my life. Not the last wonderful day, as I have those again, but the last normal day. I took the kids to church and Steve preached on the promises of God. The Lord knew we all were about to need a big reminder of those. I got my final email from Troy that night. He sounded better than when I had talked to him two days prior. He had gotten lots of good sleep, changed his office to a better location and was excited about flying the next day. Then that evening, my good friend, Tracy came over to help me put the lights on our Christmas tree. Tracy is one of those rare people who just sits back, listens and watches. She then instinctively moves forward to love you in the way you need. She always did that for me. The one thing I needed at the moment whether it was a hug, letters addressed, rescuing from stresses of motherhood, a meal, a cup of tea, a glass of wine, my carpets spot cleaned, arms to hold me while I wept, whatever it was Tracy sensed it and did it unselfishly and with love. Well, that night my need was help getting lights on the Christmas tree. Troy had always done that and Tracy knew I was frankly just lonely and bored and wanted the company while he was TDY. So I tucked the kids in bed and promised them that the next day, Monday, November 27th, we would decorate the tree. Tracy came over and we went to work on the lights. Now I like alot of lights so this means string upon string upon string. I don't remember what all we talked about but I am sure she was making me laugh and encouraging me that I only had 6 weeks left before Troy would be home and that I could do it. I remember we finished, plugged in the lights and poof! they all went out, simultaneously. We never could figure out what happened. But you know what Tracy did? She said, "Ok, girl, lets take them off and put more on. We are getting this tree ready for the kids to decorate when they come home from school tomorrow!" We were both so tired but she helped me see the project through. She left my house at midnight. Only 9 1/2 hours before I heard the news of Troy's plane going down. And actually only about 3 1/2 hours prior to his actual crash. When I said good-bye to her that night, I knew once again what a true blue friend she was. She stayed up late with me and I knew she had to get up early to home school her kids all day the next day. I knew she hadn't even thought of putting up her own decorations yet. But she knew that was important to me. I love her for that night alone. After the news the next morning and the police and tv crews started swarming the house, we decided to keep the kids out of the house for two days. I had the twins at home with me and the onlslaught of family and friends. But I needed a couple of days to get myself together and figure out what to tell our children. I remember they came home from school on Tuesday and I told them what had happened. I still don't remember what I actually said. I think the Lord spoke and just moved my mouth. We were surrounded by God's love and people and only with His strength did I find the words to tell them their daddy had been killed. Afterwards, as odd as it seemed, Greyson was completely fixated on decorating that Christmas tree like we had planned. He is my child with more of the OCD tendencies and he likes to stick with the plan but I think in that case, it was the only thing that seemed within his 6 year old control. The only way to somehow make something go on as planned. So we decorated that beautifully lit tree. It was like standing in the middle of your house after it was blown to bits by a tornadoe and then trying to put it all back together with Elmer's glue. It was that ridiculous to me.
Then I thought of last year's tree. I wanted to decorate it so that was a step up from the year prior. But things still didn't feel like Christmas. So I went, ummm.... let's just say "unorthodox". I decorated (with Becky, Jess and Amy Ryder) my entire tree in brown and turquoise. Instead of a topper I made this wild floral arrangement of glittery poinsettas, sticks and pheasant feathers. Most of my friends called it the "explosion on the top of the tree". Okay, it was awful but it was artsy and it was a true representation of how nontraditional I viewed not only Christmas but my life. Jim and I hung onto a few of those turquoise ornaments this year just as a reminder of the miracle that God did in our meeting only a month later.
I do wonder how many people reading this blog might be avoiding the decorating or celebrating in a rebellious way because they hurt so much inside. Jim and I talk often about the holidays highlighting either your own happiness or sadness, depending on which ever the case may be. Like a big fluorescent yellow marker drawing attention to your emotional state and the condition of your heart or life. We know what it is to listen to Christmas music either in a hospital room or an airport to a funeral. It makes you almost sick inside.
But this is where I have begun to see things different. Not just now that I have Jim but even over the last two Christmases to some degree. The importance is not shopping or decorating your house to the nines or how many parties you're invited to or what your kids get for Christmas. We all say "Jesus is the reason for the season" but do we really stop and think about what that means? I can tell you when all that other fluff gets highlighted for what it is, just that FLUFF, then you see Christ is it. He IS the bright and shining star. The rest of the holidays and even life, itself, is all extra. Even when we try to squeeze in the real meaning of Christmas with Jesus birthday parties, nativity scenes, candlelight Christmas Eve services (all wonderful - nothing wrong with any of those) we STILL are so permeated with the extra that we do not focus on the eternal.
"All of us have become like one who is unclean and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.."
The other day, I was rushed, hurried, feeling the stress of getting all the kids and Jim's gifts and getting the right ones. In my head, I am sure I was planning all the meals, gifts and schedule for our upcoming week's worth of visitors. I was needing to check out of the store quickly and race to be somewhere with the kids. Then I looked behind me in line and there was a young man, with no legs, sitting in a wheelchair trying to balance the shopping basket on what little of a lap he had. His drink rolled out of the basket and towards me. As I reached down to hand it to him, I wondered what his shopping experience was like. How extremely difficult I cannot fathom. I instantly prayed that he would have love and joy and hope and peace somehow this Christmas. That somehow is only through Christ at CHRISTmas. I think there is a reason His name makes up most of the word.
When all the distractions of the holidays don't matter anymore are when you can really see them for what they are. This life is wrought with pain. It is intertwined with beauty here and there. God's grace and mercy does flow down and cover us but there is still pain. And we, as those who know the impact of Jesus choosing to follow God's plan and come to earth in the flesh to experience that pain, need to stop and breathe deeply in the powerful gift that is.
I never thought, after what I went through, I would ever get caught up again in meaningless stuff. But I do. But I hopefully have eyes wide open to see when I do it. And to stop and ask myself does this thing; the toy that everyone wants and must be hunted down or this family issue or this desire to turn my home into the cover of Southern Living, whatever it is to each of us... does it keep me from worshipping the Gift of Jesus? Is my yellow highlighter going over His name, "King of Kings, Lord of Lords"? Is that showing in my actions and my attitude?
I ordered a Christmas wreath for Troy's grave last week. Yesterday I picked out a Christmas arrangement for Andrea's grave. Through the years, I have decorated every nook and cranny of my houses and often been hired out to do other people's homes. Yet, I have never once adorned anything more treasured. Yesterday, as I sat at Andrea's grave, I found myself moving the flowers I bought this way and that. Trying to place everything at just the right angle so it would look nice. Amy Ryder went to Arlington and placed the wreath just perfect so Troy's name would still show. These things are special to us. But, in the glow of Jesus' birth, they are miniscule. I confess to feeling the anxiety of the demands, the company, the meals, the timelines, etc.... It tumbles around in my head and mixes with the lump in my throat over Troy and Andrea. But I look around. I see Jim smiling, laughing and wrestlling with giggling twins near the sagging Christmas tree. I see Christmas miracles that happened this year. And I ask myself if it really matters that I still haven't hung up that last garland.
I don't imagine there are many Christmas decorations in heaven. It's just beautiful all the time. Walls of sapphire, emerald, topaz and amethyst. Gates of pearls. Streets of gold. Christmas lights pale in comparison to the light show there.
"The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light and the Lamb is its lamp."
Maybe Christmas Day is just one huge birthday party for our Lord. Troy and Andrea know. We must wait. We must remember that is what this time on earth is and that's especially what Christmas is all about; waiting to be with our Savior. Waiting to go to THE birthday party of all birthday parties.